In the age of Twitter, the idea of sharing wisdom using just a few letters is de rigueur. But that wasn’t the way of the world when Larry Smith launched the Six-Word Memoir project in 2006, challenging people to tell a story in just six words.
More than a million mini-stories have been shared at SixWordMemoirs.com, sparking a series of books, including “Not Quite What I Was Planning: And Other Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure.”
Last week, Smith, who’s from South Jersey and went to Penn, released the latest book, “The Best Advice in Six Words.” In it are witty nuggets from actors, singers and writers, including Smith’s wife, Piper Kerman, the real-life Piper of “Orange Is the New Black.” (She wrote the memoir that became the Netflix hit.)
We spoke with Smith — before his talk Tuesday, Nov. 10, at Main Line School Night — about his favorite piece of advice and watching himself on “OITNB.”
How did you pick who would contribute their wisdom to your book?
We contact[ed] some of our favorite people from worlds we all love: the arts, comedy, food, science, writing, wellness and more. Sometimes I get lucky and catch someone like Taylor Schilling (“You’re okay, right now, I promise”), Weird Al Yankovic (‘Eat your broccoli and always floss”), or Philly’s own opera star Michael Fabiano (“Don’t wait your turn in life”) who already loves the form and offers me their six words on the spot. The trickiest celebrities to land are often some of my favorite writers — I get the sense that because they are so well known for their words, they never quite feel their six-word stories are finished.
Was there anyone you really wanted who said no?
I was listening to the radio one day and heard Tony Robbins giving a TED talk that included these perfect six words: “Divorce your story, marry the truth.” I tried numerous emails and calls to [his] office to seek permission to include those words, but never heard back. There’s always the sequel…
What’s your favorite piece of advice in it?
That’s a hard question. So let’s call it a tie. My son’s “Play, play, play, play, play, play” is sage wisdom for all ages. Morgan Spurlock, the director of “Super Size Me,” emailed me six words that I seem to be repeating a lot lately: “Don’t put that in your mouth.”
How did you feel about the way Larry was portrayed on “OITNB”?
Piper and I both think the adaptation of “Orange Is the New Black” is excellent. I have some similarities to Larry Bloom. We’re funny, have good hair, love Piper. But of course the show is a work of fiction.
Did Piper contribute her six words of advice?
Piper’s a frequent and fantastic six-word scribe. In our first book she shared her Six-Word Memoir, “In and out of hot water.” In a collection of stories about love she wrote, “Found fellow cliff-diver. Best risk ever.”
In “The Best Advice in Six Words,” my wife with quite a storied life offers, “You learn more from your failures.”
Larry Smith is speaking at Main Line School Night in Radnor Tuesday, Nov. 10. Tickets are $39; doors open at 5:30 p.m. Admission to both a wine and cheese reception at 5:15 p.m. and the talk, along with a copy of "The Best Advice in Six Words," is $66.