Everything Shut Down. Everyone Opened Up.

Staying true to format, the short story behind Larry Smith's enigmatic, inspiring, organically created, and endearingly animated book, "A Terrible, Horrible, No Good Year: Hundreds of Stories on the Pandemic,” can be summed up in six carefully chosen words: Everything Shut Down. Everyone Opened Up.

Staying true to format, the short story behind Larry Smith’s enigmatic, inspiring, organically created, and endearingly animated book, “A Terrible, Horrible, No Good Year: Hundreds of Stories on the Pandemic,” can be summed up in six carefully chosen words: Everything Shut Down. Everyone Opened Up.

To understand how publishing arrived at Larry Smith’s tenth book in the Six-Word Memoir Series, we need a summary of where it began. In 2006, readers of his namesake publication, Smith Magazine, were invited to submit their own six-word life stories in the spirit of Hemingway’s famed (claimed) “For Sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.” The inspiring mini-memoirs that poured in made a few things clear: People wanted to tell their stories, had powerful stories to tell, and now they had a way to tell them. In Smith’s words, “Treat people like the real storytellers they are and give them the right platform, they’ll rise to the occasion.” As the snippet goes, “The Six Word Memoir Project Began.”

The community of storytelling that birthed out of that initial call to action became a trending genre, then series, and now a curriculum that will likely have a permanent place in the educational space.

In compiling this book, Smith helped contributors find a new way to express their feelings and help readers feel a little less alone about the pandemic. The contributions from students and teachers were collected as part of an initial classroom project that is now being rolled out nationwide.

The evolution is described by Smith in the introduction: “In 2020, when COVID began to rage across the world, everything changed. For the first time in most of our lifetimes, we all experienced the same devastation and chaos. As the father of a fourth grader, I had a front-row seat to one particular piece of this new chaos: the total disruption of education. As I saw my own son struggle with Zoom school and the heroic efforts of his teacher (whose perfect six are on page 59), I thought about how teachers, above all, seem to recognize the simple power of six words to unlock creativity, wrestle big ideas to the ground, and help kids make sense of their lives.”

One such teacher was Julie Taylor, Director of K-12 Curriculum and Federal Programs, Ashe County Schools, North Carolina.

“As a teaching literacy specialist of 25 years who has moved into district curriculum planning, I have seen the many powerful ways that this ‘American Haiku’ format can unlock students’ creativity,” said Taylor. To meet a growing need, Smith created a free teacher’s guide that can be replicated for use beyond COVID, now in use in over 5,000 classrooms.

“Incorporating these lessons has helped our teachers understand how the students feel, and everyone has loved the chance for our students to see themselves as published authors,” added Taylor.

As is the nature of good storytelling, this has grown into something bigger — a healing process for kids and adults alike. “We’ve all had a tough time during the pandemic. But Noah,” Smith says of his son, “and the many students, teachers, and parents who generously shared their stories in the pages that follow remind us that, to quote the very last memoir in this book, ‘Numbers rose, but sun did, too.’”

Join the community of more than 1.3 million life stories on sixwordsmemoirs.com. •

Among the hundreds of  featured Six-Word Memoirs:

“I taught math, they taught resilience.” – Loryn Gavula, teacher

“Hey Siri, please give me social interaction.” – Nate Mitton, age 12

“Zoom kindergarten broke us, built us.” – Rachel Sklar, parent

“For sale: prom dress, never worn.”– Caroline Richardson, age 19

“YouTube: negligent co-parent, inattentive teacher. Savior.” – Elan Lee, parent

“Weak internet connections; strong classroom connections.” – Emily Miller, teacher

From North Carolina’s students of teacher Julie Taylor:

“No school, no sports, only distance.” – Landen W.

“My cat is tired of me.” – Titus P.

“Youthful giggles turned into masked tears.” – Zoey L.

“I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.” – Carson P.


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