SIDNEY — Larry Smith, founder of the Six-Word Memoir, a best selling book series and open-to-all story project found at SixWordMemoirs.com, visited Sidney High School on Wednesday, Nov. 14. Smith, a native of Brooklyn, New York now resides in Columbus, Ohio.
Smith started a civic engagement initiative which uses the simplicity and inclusivity of the six-word form to engage and connect people. A longtime journalist, Smith has been a contributor to The New York Times, ESPN Magazine, Popular Science, Wired, and other publications.
In anticipation of the microblogging explosion, Smith originally launched Six-Word Memoirs in November 2006 as a simple online challenge asking: “Can you tell your life story in six words?” The next week he had 3,000 emails. He knew he was on to something. In a partnership with Twitter, Smith’s followers were then sent one six-word story a day. In a matter of weeks, the blogosphere began exploring the concept. By 2008 Harper Perennial signed Smith to a five-book deal. Now, Smith is the facilitator of an online community dedicated to truth, authenticity, and story telling — in six words, of course.
Smith’s connection to Sidney High School is veteran English teacher, Sara Olding. For several years, Olding has challenged students in her senior English classes to work with the six word concept in an effort to capture how they felt about different ideas and world events.
In May 2018 Olding posted a picture of her student’s six word memoirs about graduation. That post eventually led to Smith’s visit.
“Stories matter. I have spent most of my adult life empowering young people to tell their stories,” said Olding. “A few years ago I stumbled across Larry Smith’s work and the students love the six word challenge. I never could have imagined that he would actually visit Sidney High School. It was a lot to pull off, but the students loved it.”
Travis Hoewischer, a mutual friend of both Smith and Olding helped put the visit together. Hoewischer, a 1998 graduate of Sidney High School, is an award-winning journalist in central Ohio and a founding editor of (614) Magazine.
In preparation of Smith’s visit to Sidney, the English Department worked together so that each student had a story to contribute. Students shared six word memoirs on the themes of loss, growth, future, hope, and family. Memoirs were written on notecards and shared on a massive memoir wall.
Smith was so impressed with the work that he has decided to feature Olding’s class on his blog in coming months. Speaking to juniors and seniors in the morning Smith shared, “I don’t know if I can inspire you, but I am here to tell you that no one can take your story. It belongs to you.”
In the afternoon, Smith met with freshman and sophomores and reminded them that stories change. He emphasized that “the story that defines us at 15 does not have to define us at 20.” He also encouraged students to “use the six word template to explore identity and set goals.”
Both sessions ended in a six word slam where students were invited to share their stories aloud.
Hoewischer, who accompanied Smith to Sidney and served as the emcee for the slam, commented that “the event was amazing.” Olding added that “both Smith and Hoewischer had instant rapport with students. They convinced a lot of kids to not only keep telling their stories, but to consider the power in it. For me, that is what it is all about.”
Over one million life stories have been published on sixwordmemoirs.com. Students from Sidney High School have contributed to that number. In coming weeks, the Sidney Daily News will feature six word memoirs written by Sidney High School students. In the future, the newspaper and Olding’s class would like to hear your story. Like the website says: “Your turn: say it in six.”