Six-Word Memoirs: Students Energize Their Art with Six Words

“At last, third wheel breaks away” —Meredith Lucius

The Kansas City Art Institute in Kansas City, Missouri, sets out to prepare its students to “transform the world creatively.” It is no wonder, then, that Six-Word Memoirs has found a place at this prestigious arts school, especially as a creative thinking activity for students.

Assistant Professor John Ferry first discovered Six-Word Memoirs while listening to NPR. The six-word form immediately struck him as a useful, creative activity for students. “I thought to myself: Hey, that might be a really cool assignment,” says John. He picked up Six-Word Memoir’s fourth book in the series, It All Changed in an Instant, to immerse himself in the form.

“Eat Cake Now, Regret it Never.” —Astrid Blurr

This year, John used Six-Words with a sophomore illustration class titled “Image and Form.” In that class, he explained, “we try to get them to play, think, and go about things in an unconventional way.” Six-Words was a great creative task idea and innovation activity for students.

The assignment began with a handout that included information about SMITH Magazine and the SWM website, as well as Ernest Hemingway and his legendary six-word novel. John also read aloud examples from SWM book, It All Changed in an Instant. The learning goal was to familiarize each of his students - who were majoring in Illustration - “with writing and illustrating their text,” and emphasizing the importance of delivering clear messages at a quick glance.

“I don’t belong in this decade.” —Kylie Carey

The college students began the creative thinking activity by crafting a number of six-word sentences. Then they chose one of the sentences to focus on and created an illustration to accompany it.

The project, which lasted just more than a week, was a welcome critical thinking exercise for the university students. “Some students are double majors, but most aren’t necessarily writers,” says John. “Because it has to be condensed into six words, it’s not as daunting.” The six-word form was as stimulating as it was accessible: “The prompt is defined, yet really open at the exact same time,” John reflected.

“Small guppy in a shark tank.” —Megan Wyatt

The results were stunning (“Even better than I had planned”). The memoirs were bold (“Don’t be a nihilist. Just draw.”), funny (“Eat cake now. Regret it never.”), reflective (“I don’t belong in this decade.”) and sometimes deeply revealing (“I watched myself become a ghost.”).

“This example of creative classroom activities assignment has helped me learn more about my students,” John said. “This helps me as a professor; the more I know about them personally, the better I can help them figure out what they want to do with their work.”

“Don’t be a nihilist. Just draw.” —Penny Lane Clarkson

Though this was the first time John has used Six-Word Memoirs in the classroom, it has quickly proven its worth: “I will absolutely always give this assignment. I wish I’d been doing it longer,” says John.