Sunday, May 18th, 2008
At the Six-Word Memoir event May 14 in Mankato, Minnesota, four of us contributors sat at a table telling our stories to the audience, all the while a guy with a fancy professional camera snapped pictures from every angle.
I didn’t know this man. I’ve lived in this town for 14 years, and having worked at the local newspaper, know all the Mankato media types. This guy wasn’t one of them.
While the other contributors were talking, I was thinking “Wow, someone’s taking pictures of us!” I straightened a bit, smoothed my hair. Is this how celebrities feel?
Turns out the photographer is the father of Renee Schunk (page 111—”Sperm too potent, now have triplets.”). I still felt important, only now a bit jealous as well. I wish my parents were that proud of me!
Besides Renee and me (page 99—”I grew up in a cemetery”) other contributors at Barnes and Noble that night were Patrick Dentinger (page 108—”Artist, disabled. Feeling mislabeled. Ambitions tabled.”) and Mary Hynes (page 129—”I forgot I have memory loss.”) The four of us represent the southern Minnesota Six-Word Memoir contingent.
The crowd wasn’t large by any means; we had to compete with the first really nice evening in what otherwise had been a cool and rainy Minnesota spring. But a few friends of mine showed up, as did Renee’s partner, her gaggle of kids, and her parents. Even a couple of strangers decided to spend a portion of their evening with us.
We read from the book, shared our memoirs and talked about the stories behind them. Most of us had heard the call for submissions on National Public Radio, while I stumbled across Smith magazine through MySpace. An audience member asked what role writing plays in our lives. We work in diverse jobs—hospital administrator, office manager, graphic artist, teacher. But in our non-work lives, three of us consider ourselves writers.
We got some help from audience members, who shouted out page numbers and we read six-word memoirs at random. Page 45 was one of those called, so we read Susan Henderson’s “Mistakenly kills kitten. Fears anything delicate.” Oooh, a downer! We shared some memoirs of the “famous” writers, from Stephen Colbert to Joan Rivers to Joyce Carol Oates.
I brought candy for people willing to share their own six-word stories. I’m always amazed at what people come up with on the spot! My friend Diane, who watched two parents die and became a mom all within the span of a couple of weeks earlier this year, wrote: “In fifteen days—new mom, orphan.” Twelve-year-old Jake came up with: “Pretty short, but not too bad.” We’re still not sure if he was referring to his life thus far, or his height! But the best memoirs can be taken more than one way.
One woman asked, “Do you have to write a memoir in order to get the candy?” Those were the rules, I said. No memoir, no candy. She replied back a few minutes later: “Life’s not fair. I want candy!” She got two mini Butterfingers for her efforts.
The Mankato Barnes and Noble has done a great job publicizing the book. Soon after it came out it appeared as one of the staff picks, prominently featured on a shelf near the front, and the review gave a shout-out to the local contributors. Recently, a neat stack of the books were displayed on the information desk. EVERYONE walks by the information desk, right? I asked the manager if he has full control of what books he features, or if the decisions come from corporate. The local stores decide, he said. We’re glad they recognize a good thing when they see it!
After the reading, the community events manager bought us each a treat at the café. I left knowing my picture had been taken, that my name had been on a sign, and with a free coffee in my hand. Yes, I think this is how celebrities feel!