The Six-Word Memoir Contest

by rcnewsblog on April 18, 2013

Six-Word Memoir copy“And then they boiled him. Goodnight, girls.”
  — Dr. David Scaer
(winner, Horrid Bedtime Stories)

Since January 2010, the Writing Center at Roanoke College has tested the short-form writing talents of members of the campus community with its Six-Word Memoir Contest on Facebook.

The 2012-2013 contest, which kicked off during the Activities Fair on Aug. 31, 2012 and closed this past Sunday, April 14, received more than 500 entries.

The number of entries attests to the contest’s popularity. Examples include the heartwrenching “If only I knew his name!” by Rachel Leach ‘14, winner of the Summer Love theme; the witty “Roanoke College spring peepers: class outside?” written by Dr. Angela Allen, teaching associate in psychology, who received an honorable mention in the Spring Fever theme; and the wise “Quick! Dad’s coming! Hide the beer!” written by Kathryn Lenten ’12, winner of the My Brother’s (or Sister’s) Keeper theme.

Before the start of each semester, Writing Center tutors decide on 11 to 12 themes for the weekly contests, which open on Monday mornings and close at 9 p.m. the following Sundays. Participants must “like” the Writing Center’s Facebook page and post a comment to the weekly theme. When each contest closes, the tutors vote by email on their favorites; the winner and an honorable mention are announced Monday morning on Facebook.

Weekly winners receive a brightly colored certificate proclaiming their achievement, and a coveted $10 Sheetz gift card. They then become eligible for the Six-Word Memoirist semester prize— a $100 Visa gift card — that is awarded during exam week. (Stay tuned for announcement of winners!)  Tutors can submit entries, but they are ineligible for the weekly prizes.

Dustin Persinger ’13, winner of the Fall 2012 Semester Award, received $150 in gift cards — $50 for the Activities Fair winner and $100 for the Semester Award. He won for his entry to the School Dazed and Confused theme — “You mean she’s only a freshman?”

The contest is open to all current Roanoke College campus members, with students, faculty and staff equally enthusiastic about competing for the weekly Sheetz card.  As Dr. Paul Hanstedt, professor of English, exclaimed when his entry for the Spring Fever theme (“Apparently daffodils aren’t good to eat”) won the Spring 2012 Semester Honorable Mention Award, “That’s almost three gallons of gas!”

Legend credits Ernest Hemingway with the first six-word memoir.  When the famously terse writer was challenged to compose a story in just six words, he responded, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

In November 2006, the online storytelling SMITH Magazine launched the Six-Word Memoir, offering writers a place to post their musings on subjects ranging from life and love to war and death. The project has developed into a franchise, including Six-Word Memoir books, calendars, T-shirts — even a board game. 

Promoting clear, concise writing is the contest’s primary goal.The six-word limit forces participants to be concise and to choose words carefully. Because the entries must tell a story — not just present a thought — writers must be creative with their details.

What six words tell your story?

Visit the Writing Center of Roanoke College on Facebook at

— Jennifer Rosti, Interim Director, The Writing Center, and Visiting Instructor, Department of English

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