Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (2024)

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (1)

Illustration: Dana Tanamachi

In November 2006, writer and editor Larry Smith issued a challenge to fans of his Web publication, SMITH Magazine. Inspired by Ernest Hemingway's legendary shortest of short stories ("For sale: Baby shoes, never worn"), Smith asked his readers to describe their lives in six words. The Six-Word Memoir contest officially ended after a month, but the stories kept coming. Five years on, participants have contributed more than half a million mini-memoirs. Smith has published five compilations of the intensely personal accounts and continues his online quest to spark the creativity of aspiring writers. "There is inspiration everywhere," he says. "Even if you don't think you're a storyteller, you are."

Feeling...well, inspired, we asked you to tell us your life stories in six words on oprah.com, Facebook, and Twitter. For a glimpse into the lives of fellow O readers, flip through the gallery. You can share your Six-Word Memoir at smithmag.net, and see our favorites here.

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (2)

Illustration by David Wyffels

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (3)

Illustration: David Wyffels

"I find myself constantly searching for more excitement both in and out of the water. In the past year, I've run a half marathon and gone skydiving twice. I have so much more that I want to do."

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (4)

Illustration: David Wyffels

"As kids my identical twin and I were addressed by one name—tryke—kind of a combination of twin and tyke. Even our dad couldn't tell us apart."

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (5)

Illustration: David Wyffels

"I'm working as a low-level clerk in the federal government even though I have a biology degree. Every morning I wake up thinking I wasted four years of my life in college. One day, though, I'll put myself on the right path and become the forensic scientist I've always wanted to be."

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (6)

Illustration: David Wyffels

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (7)

Illustration: David Wyffels

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (8)

Illustration:

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (9)

Illustration: David Wyffels

"I was single until I was 20, and over the next two decades, I had nine children. My husband and I divorced when I turned 40. For the next 20 years, I raised my family and worked at a state prison, where I processed inmate records. At 61 I decided to retire; since then I've volunteered, taking 19 trips with nonprofit groups all over the world. I've taught English in China, Italy, India, Romania, Poland, and the Cook Islands. I've also done environmental work. In Peru, I helped a scientist survey a forest; in Belize, I collected data on seals and dolphins. Every day I do some sort of exercise, so I'm in good health. That's why I'm wondering what to do for the next 20 years. And maybe someday I'll write a book about my life for my great-grandchildren."

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (11)

Illustration: Dana Tanamachi

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (12)

Illustration: David Wyffels

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (13)

Illustration: Dana Tanamachi

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (14)

Illustration: David Wyffels

"When I was homeless with my baby daughter, I vowed to own a business and drive a Jaguar someday. For 18 years, I've run a corporate leadership training program, and I leased an XJS convertible for two years just so I could live my dream."

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (15)

Illustration: David Wyffels

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (16)

Illustration: David Wyffels

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (17)

Illustration: David Wyffels

"At 31 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My doctors told me I didn't have much chance of survival. Three years later, some of the cancer is gone, but I'm still in treatment. Believe it or not, I feel more alive than ever. I used to be self-conscious, but now I realize the importance of connecting with other people. I get out there, socialize, and speak my mind."

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (18)

Illustration: David Wyffels

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (19)

Illustration: David Wyffels

"My daughter, son, and I were involved in a 60-car pileup on a snowy highway in December 2008. A semitrailer destroyed our Jeep, but miraculously we walked away with only bruises."

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (20)

Illustration: David Wyffels

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (21)

Illustration: David Wyffels

"There was a saying during the Great Depression: 'Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.' That's how I grew up. Whether I wanted a coat or college tuition, I had to work for it. Now that I'm older, people tell me to slow down, but I'm full of energy. I want to do it all."

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (22)

Illustration: David Wyffels

"As a 5-year-old, I'd take a seat at the kitchen table and watch as my great-grandmother prepared white coffee—essentially warm milk with a splash of Folgers—before sitting down with me for an early-morning chat. Today every cup of coffee I pour reminds me of our brief but special moments together."

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (23)

Illustration: Dana Tanamachi

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (24)

Illustration: David Wyffels

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (25)

Illustration: David Wyffels

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (26)

Illustration: David Wyffels

"I've failed a class, lost out on jobs. At 18 people told me not to break up with a guy who wanted to marry me. But I continued my education, became a recreational therapist, and found an amazing husband."

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (27)

Illustration: David Wyffels

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (28)

Illustration: David Wyffels

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (29)

Illustration: Dana Tanamachi

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (30)

Illustration: David Wyffels

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (31)

Illustration: David Wyffels

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (32)

Illustration: David Wyffels

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (33)

Illustration: David Wyffels

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (34)

Illustration: David Wyffels

"When there's alcoholism in the family, as there was in mine, you pretend everything's fine. There's one story for the outside world and one that's real. My father was a politician, so the difference between our public and private life was more exaggerated. It was like a comedy."

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (35)

Illustration: David Wyffels

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (36)

Illustration: David Wyffels

"When I was 12, my mother and her fiancé were murdered. The crime remained unsolved until the police reopened the case seven years ago. Forced to relive the loss of my mother, I tried nearly every self-help healing method available to overcome my past. Finally, a Buddhist lama made me realize that I am not my trauma."

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (37)

Illustration: Dana Tanamachi

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (38)

Illustration: David Wyffels

"For years I lived exactly as I was supposed to. At 42 I changed my life:I left a job at a Catholic school that I'd held for 20 years and my husband of 21 years. My family sees me as a rebel, but I'm happier living for me."

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (39)

Illustration: David Wyffels

"As a second-year psychiatry resident, I finally admitted to myself that medicine wasn't for me—art had always been my passion. Now I'm studying for my teaching certification in art education."

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (40)

Illustration: David Wyffels

Next: More 6-word memoirs

From the February 2012 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine

Mini-Memoirs: Your Life Story in Six Words (2024)
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