Although best known for their Six-Word-Memoir series, SMITH Magazine started out as a space for longer-form storytelling. Recently, they’ve published a collection of personal essays, “The Moment: Wild, Poignant, Life-Changing Stories from 125 Writers and Artists, Famous & Obscure”.
On Thursday, January 26, founder and Editor-in-Chief, Larry Smith, will host a reading at Greenlight with just a few of the outstanding contributors. The launch at McNally Jackson earlier this month was great, we suggest you don’t miss this one.
Larry spoke with Book Boroughing about the project and mentioned an upcoming Six-Word-Memoir reading at 92Y Tribeca on February 14th that we suggest you go to as well.
SMITH Magazine is best known for its Six-Word Memoir series, what made you expand into the essay?
The longer essay form was a return to the roots of SMITH. When I launched the site in January 2006, the idea was to create a place for personal storytelling in words, first and foremost, but also in photos, comics and video. We had an unexpected success with our graphic novels (such as A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, which recounted the true story of even people who survived Hurricane Katrina), but words were always the soul of the site. It wasn’t like we thought we were creating some monster site like YouTube here—and I never had funding or money for marketing—but people found SMITH and liked it and we grew day by day. At the end of 2006 we launched the Six-Word Memoir project, which became a bestselling book series. Its success gave me the opportunity to post “What’s your Moment” as a new prompt, with a pretty good sense we’d make a book.
This new book, “The Moment: Wild, Poignant, Life-Changing Stories from 125 Writers and Artists, Famous & Obscure,” is a collection of personal essays from writers and artists about the moment that changed their lives. You mention that it started as a writing prompt, how did the initial idea come about?
The idea came about mainly by just listening to the kinds of stories I loved telling and hearing. I got the chance to meet people from all part of the country when we toured for the Six-Word Memoir book series and I heard one refrain again and again: “I have the most amazing story to tell you.” These stories often revolved around a very specific event that had made a very big impact on the teller’s life and led to conversations — “That’s my moment, what’s yours?” It made sense to carve out space on smithmag.net for what we called “The Moment,” which was really getting back to the original notion of SMITH being a place for longer storytelling. The stories started coming in, and they were weird and wonderful, and like six words, some version of self-expression with a touch of therapy tossed in.
What were you expecting from people and how did your assumptions compare with what was submitted?
Having done SMITH for a while, especially reading hundreds of thousands of Six-Word Memoirs, I had a pretty good sense that people would dig deep and write honest, intense, weird, surprising stories in a public space. With six words, teens tend to write very much in “the moment,” some post hundreds of six-worders on SMITHTeens.com a day, like a daily diary, and of course there’s tons of angst and drama.
I knew that the adults, especially the older set, tend to look back more wistfully at their lives revealing lessons learned, with more comfort in their skin. That largely true generalization carried over to The Moment. What I mean is that many of the stories are by adults thinking about a time in their young lives—under the age of 20, let’s say—when they understand that life is hard, unfair, full of disappointments. In a comic-drawn Moment about watching the Red Sox lose the World Series with her dad, Molly Lawless writes, “I realized there was no connection between how badly you wanted something and whether you got it.” Adults, by and large, see that imperfections in ourselves and the universe make us better. In a story about her husband Paul West’s stroke, Diane Ackerman offer this lovely passage:
“Life changed dramatically, and we changed along with it. But that’s always the secret to a long marriage, isn’t it? It’s not really one marriage but several. People change, events change them, and their life as a couple evolves. To stay together and thrive, one has to make space for those changes, including both sun and shadow.”
You mentioned you had a few guidelines, what were they?
We didn’t post any restrictions as to what constitutes a person’s “moment,” but when people asked me for guidance, I gently suggested, “No births, Bar Mitzvahs or weddings.” A few birth stories slipped in there, both, as it turns out by fathers. The opening of this NPR segment includes a clip of John Carnett reading his moment about the birth of his first son. It’s short and mesmerizing, as so many Moments are.
You put on an annual reading at the 92Y Tribeca for your Six-Word Memoirs, what do you like best about live readings?
We did four shows at 92YTribeca last year. Our next one is the annual February 14 “Six-Words on Love & Heartbreak” story show. Hearing stories come out of people, in a room full of folks who could choose to do almost anything in the world but decided to spend their night hearing strangers tell true stories about their lives, is a total high. It’s a totally different experience than reading the words on a page, hearing them on a podcast or watching them on YouTube. When live storytelling is really humming, there’s nothing like it.
What can people expect at Greenlight on January 26th?
At McNally Jackson we had an intensely packed line-up of storytellers offering their moments, or excerpts of them, in words, images and video. On paper it looked like too much content, too long a reading. And what we saw was that no one moved. The audience wasn’t just receptive, but rapt. We have an almost completely different line-up for Greenlight, and I’m expecting a similar kind of evening: powerful, personal storytelling in front of a crowd that loves it. And then we’re going to go down the street and have a party.