The Six-Word Memoir Blog

Classroom of the Week: Publicolor Brightens Lives

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

By Larry Smith


I get such a rush when I walk into a new environment, often full of people who’ve never heard of Six-Word Memoirs—and then mere minutes later they’re spilling forth funny, profound, sweet, and surprising sixes.

In the last month, I’ve given talks and led workshops to a wild range of people in a wide range of places: Shop Rite owners during a conference devoted to team culture, in which a woman summed up her professional life with these six words: “Why are you screaming? It’s detergent” (the room then exploded in roars); the staff of Shutterfly’s new Storytelling division, in which one of the company’s most admired executives explained, “I tell amazing stories in PowerPoint”; and, most recently, to the young storytellers who gather after school many days at Publicolor.

Publicolor is a really cool nonprofit with a mission to add color to young lives. The NYC-based organization works with kids aged 12-18 to physically change their spaces by spending time transforming often dreary school halls into bright, energized spaces, often simply by painting a wall. Along the way, Publicolor opens up its own offices for creative workshops of all kinds, and invited me in to talk about Six-Word Memoirs. When I tell the story of six, I always explain SMITH Magazine reinvigorated the form made famous by Hemingway in his legendary six-word novel, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” I often ask students what they think of Hemingway’s story could be about and the kids come up with wonderful interpretations. This afternoon, one girl, 13 and at first appearance shy, raised her hand and said with a certain matter-of-fact confidence: “Maybe it was about an adult who grew up too fast and never really had a childhood.” To which is say, in one word: wow.

Fifteen minutes later, the room was bursting with sixes about their lives, their families, their aspirations, and people were fighting to read the six-word books—the type of brawl I can get behind. The wonderful staff at Publicolor who invited me in, including Ginger Albertson and Melissa Rioux, scanned all the memoirs, of which you can read below. At Publicolor, I saw the future, and it’s bright.

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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.”

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One response

  1. Contemplative says:

    Wow about summed it up. The original creations in their own handwriting, both a big impact. Keep spreading the word and working on new projects.

    To the classroom: “Better job could not have done.” and “Clapped hands. Pleaded for an encore.”

    Looking forward to all that is written in private, public, and published!

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