The Six-Word Memoir Blog

Classroom of the Week: “One Small Jew, One Loud Family.”

Monday, August 1st, 2011

By Larry Smith


Our Classroom of the Week is extra special for me—I taught it. Novelist and writing professor Jon Papernick invited me to speak and do storytelling workshops in his classes at the summer writing program he runs for high school students at Brandeis University. On the evening I arrived, I spoke to all of the 100+ students attending BIMA, a program that brings together teens and arts faculty for four weeks each summer.

Our Six-Word Slam the first night was a blast to watch in action. As is often the case with a Six-Word Slam—whether in a classroom, boardroom, or bar—the crowd is tentative at first, with a few brave souls raising their hands for the wireless mic. Then momentum builds, and Six-Word Memoirs begin bursting across the room like popcorn from a pot. Here are a few:

“Went to Jewish camp. Didn’t makeout.”
“My memory eraser broke. Need it.”
“I eat. Suck on that, bitch.”
“Golden summers carry my weight.”
“Gillettes are for shaving, not cutting.”
“Take off your goddamn headphones.”
“Mom called: Asked me to text.”

The next day, in a smaller classroom setting, we went deeper into what makes a good Six-Word Memoir, or any type of personal story, and even had the students work on writing their own life-changing moments (the topic of SMITH Mag’s next anthology). (The photo above is not actually a Mac ad, but the students hard at work.) Professor Papernick also challenged the mostly Jewish class to write Six-Word Memoirs about being Jewish and their reflections about the Sabbath.

“Born Orthodox Jew. Now Orthodox cynic.”
“Jewish, but only -ish. Dragons, please.”
“Old woman comes just for Kadash.”
“Light is off. Find a goy.”
“One small Jew, one loud family.”

In the days after I left, the class made their own Dylan-esque Six-Word Memoir video, embedded below.

What’s more, after I returned, I learned that SMITH Mag’s new intern, Yael Roberts, is a BIMA graduate. How cool is that? Thanks to Jon Papernick for the amazing work his does at Brandeis and his crew of teen storytellers. My six words on my time at Brandeis: “The future of storytelling is brilliant.”

Note: With the generous support of our publisher, Harper Perennial, we’ve created two Six-Word Memoir lesson plans, one for our first book, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure, as well as one for our teen book, I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure. Download a free PDF of either or both below. In return, all we ask is that you let us know how six words works in your class. We love sharing your stories with the rest of the SMITH community.

Teachers Guide: First Six-Word Memoir book (click to download)
Teachers Guide: Teen Six-Word Memoir book (click to download)
Video: “Six Tips for Writing Six-Word Memoirs.”

Photo by Jon Papernick, whose six-word caption is, “This could be a Mac ad.”

2 responses

  1. bevvie says:

    really enjoyed the article and the videos. felt weepy after listening to the students in the video.

  2. Arabella Curtin says:

    Thanks-a-mundo for the article.Really looking forward to read more. Want more.

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