Volume 77 / Number 39 - Feb. 27 - March 04, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Books

“Not Quite What I Expected: Six Word Memoirs by Famous and Obscure Writers”
Edited by Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith
Harper Perennial, $12

Life, summed up in six words

By Adrienne Urbanski

Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in six words (his creation: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”) Smith Magazine, a web site showcasing personal narratives, invited writers to come up with their own six-word memoirs. “We’re living in a voyeuristic age,” said Rachel Fershleiser, the magazine’s senior editor. “In a time of blogs and reality television, where the focus is all on the personal, it seemed appropriate to take the form and turn it into memoirs.”

Since its inception, Smith Magazine has been creating collaborative online writing projects, but this one proved to be the most successful, with thousands of readers across the country offering contributions. The site initially chose and highlighted a favorite contribution every day, then held a contest to find a submission worthy of a title for book of the best contributions. The winner, “Not Quite What I Was Planning,” was penned by Summer Grimes, 25, a St. Paul, Minnesota hairdresser. She originally thought the email saying she’d won was a scam, and only discovered the truth while perusing Amazon.com and finding that the book had been published with her contribution on the cover.

Fershleiser and Larry Smith, founder of Smith, spread the collaborative feel of the book by inviting many of the contributors to participate in readings. At their recent book party at Soho’s Housing Works, attendees were asked to write their memoirs on nametags in lieu of names.

Contributions by unknown writers are printed alongside those of celebrities, a mix also present on the Smith Web site. “We don’t just want submissions from people who could be published in McSweeney’s or the New Yorker,” said Fershleiser. “We want everyone’s voice.”

Personal favorites include author Jonathan Lethem (“Eat mutate aura amateur auteur true”), musician Aimee Mann (“Couldn’t cope so I wrote songs”), comedian Amy Sedaris (“Mushrooms. Clowns. Wands. Five. Wig. Thatched.”), and Rachel Kramer Bussel (“Nerdy girl smutmonger. Now baby fever.) The editors also contributed (Fershleiser wrote the gem: “Bespectacled, besneakered, read and ran around.”)

And how does one feel after browsing through so many lives encompassed in just a few words?

“People really encounter every kind of feeling with this work,” said Fershleiser. “They start out saying, ‘Oh, that’s cute,’ then feel sad and uncomfortable, and then think how much they can relate. Ultimately, it says that anything can happen in life.”

Upcoming “Six Word Memoir” readings are on March 11 at McNally Robinson (52 Prince St.) and March 25 at KGB Bar (85 E. 4th St.). For more info, visit smithmag.net.

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