“I was 7 or 8 and it was totally a tall tale, but it was captivating everyone—I was trading lunches and ended up with 12 Twinkies—in reality, it was like two Twinkies, but my two sisters were sitting there and everyone was laughing, so I was going with it,” remembered Larry Smith when asked about a first story-telling memory. “I got a reaction just by making shit up.”
And from that moment on, storytelling became the overlapping theme of Smith’s Venn diagram. From journalist to editor to publisher of SMITH Magazine, he is now mostly known as the pied piper of Six Word Memoirs, a small publishing empire encompassing both digital and analog collections of the mini musings of people near and far, civilian and celebrity.
“Storytelling is everything,” said the New Jersey native, on the phone from the Massachusetts shore. “It’s the true power of self and expression—there’s something about releasing it out into the world and having it caught and consumed.”
The origin story of six-word memoirs grounds itself in the tale of Ernest Hemmingway being challenged to write a full story in six words: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.” Although the tie to Hemingway is largely tall-tale, Smith embraced the concept and turned it into an online forum for storytelling that has crept its short-and-sweet concept into classrooms, boardrooms, and dinner parties around the world.
“We’ve been storytelling forever,” he said. “Back to hieroglyphics, around campfires … at weddings … you remember the stories from the weddings more than the vows.”
The six-word model is such an irresistible prompt that even those who claim to have “nothing to write about” take to it like moths to flame. There are people who publish one to the website, and others who publish hundreds. When you share your story, there is a subconscious feeling that you’re a part of something larger, explained Smith. And it’s the sharing that’s key. “One thing is okay, two make it better,” said Smith. “One fax machine is useless, you need two.”
Jumping from the computer screen and page, Smith is debuting a new version of the six-word concept this year. “Six in the City” will take place in myriad ways throughout Columbus over the course of the next few months. Debuting the idea at June’s Arts Fest, the touchstone event for the project will take place at this month’s Independents’ Day festival in Franklinton. “It’s going to be a simple thing,” he explained. The booth will have a clothesline for people to pin up their six-word Columbus story.
Throughout the next few months, Six in the City events will be popping up around town. Besides its presence at Independents’ Day, there will also be events at the Columbus Museum of Art, the Creative Control Fest, Katzinger’s, Green Columbus, Open Streets Columbus, Temple Israel, Speak Easy, Yoga on High, Dress for Success, and more. There will also be collaborations with area schools and the Harmony Project.
Smith is currently living in Columbus while his wife, Orange is the New Black author Piper Kerman facilitates writing workshops at Marion Correctional Institution and the Ohio Reformatory for Women. “Columbus is such a sweet fun exciting town—so much enthusiasm,” he said. “I refer to it as the seventh borough—Philadelphia is the sixth.”
At the drop of a hat, Smith can recall six-word memoirs that he’s heard at a workshop or that have come in through the website. “Just give me a topic,” he said. “People really get into it–‘We’re the family you gossip about;’ ‘Cursed with cancer, blessed by friend;’ ‘Mom’s Alzheimer’s: she forgets, I remember’—there are so many notes there.”
“Much like a Twinkie,” he said. “Stories never grow stale.”
Keep your eyes open and your pen ready for Six in the City events all around you–for details, visit sixwordmemoirs.com.