This piece was submitted by Larry Smith as part of the 2015 PEN World Voices Online Anthology.

Larry Smith’s event: Six Words for My Mother


Since 2006, I’ve been asking people to sum up their lives in exactly six words on the storytelling community I founded, Six Words from SMITH Magazine. We call these short life stories “Six-Word Memoirs,” a personal twist on the form that, according to literary lore, Hemingway started when challenged in a bar to write a whole novel in just six words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Eight years and more than one million stories later, the six-word concept has become a bestselling book series, a teaching tool used across the world, and a powerful way to spur on self-expression for anyone and everyone. In hospitals and veterans’ groups, at after-school programs and houses of worship, around dinner tables and (naturally) during speed dates, the six-word concept has been used to foster understanding, ease communication, and break the ice.

The six-word constraint forces us to figure out the essence of who we are and what matters most. Above all, six words is a great way for anyone and everyone to start telling their story. A compelling Six-Word Memoir also provokes three more important words from those who receive it: Tell me more. Here are just a few examples of Six-Word Memoirs from people across the world, including a few names you may recognize. —Larry Smith


Bad brakes discovered at high speed. —Johan Baumeister


Ex-wife and contractor now have house. —Drew Peck  


Being a monk stunk. Better gay. —Bob Redman


School geek married a luscious cheerleader. —Christopher Clukey   


Former Boss: “Writing’s your worst skill!”— Amy Tan


Gin joints. Love affairs. No relation. —Dean Ellis


One tooth, one cavity, life’s cruel. —John Bettencourt    


Mormon economist marries feminist. Worlds collide. —Michael McBride


Mormon feminist loves husband, hates patriarchy. —Caroline Kline


Blame Catholic Church for bad knees. —Kathi Wright


Half Jewish. Half Italian. Totally stuffed. —Dave Cirilli


Life behind a microphone gets lonely. —Crystal Kash


Wanted world, got world plus lupus. —Liz Futrell


Grumpy old soundman needs love, too. —Lennie Rosengard


Wasn’t born a redhead; fixed that. —Andie Grace


Hugged some trees, then burned them. —Tom Price


Brought it to a boil, often.  —Mario Batali


Slightly psychotic; in a good way. —Patricia Neelty


Just a rockin’ readin’ knittin’ kitten. —Emmeline Friedman


Act two curtain brought dramatic improvements. —John Godfrey


From teen witch to queen bitch. —Tavi Gevinson


Learned eventually, Billy Crystal, not Salinger. —Ben Kaplan


Young, skinny, ridiculed. Old, skinny, envied. —Phil Sweet


Discovered moral code via Judy Blume. —Beth Greivel


Older now, I draw myself better. —Peter Arkle


Near death experiences are my forte. —Anna Mauser-Martinez


Never really finished anything, except cake. —Carletta Perkins


Professor/poet morphs into Poet/professor. —Billy Collins


Much married, fourth time is charm. —Erica Jong


Now I blog and drink wine. —Peter Bartlett


ABCs. MTV. SATs. THC. IRA. NPR. —Jancee Dunn


I still make coffee for two. —Zak Nelson


Almost a victim of my family. —Chuck Sangster


Caring for parents. Life is circular. —Tim McGrath


Fourteen years old, story still untold. —David Gidwani