Discussions about immigration and identity were important long before the age of Trump, says Larry Smith , creator of SMITH Magazine and the Six-Word Memoirs project. Immigrants have always been part of our nation’s story, and they’ve always had stories to tell themselves.
That’s why Smith — who’s now edited nine installments of the six-word stories series — chose the topic for his latest release, “Six Words Fresh Off the Boat: Stories of Immigration, Identity, and Coming to America.” The book, he says, gives immigrants and those affected by immigration a platform to tell some of those stories.
The Tuesday release is filled with six-word memoirs from more than 500 contributors, who range from international celebrities, to contributors who submitted memoirs online, to people Smith and his team found by visiting naturalization ceremonies and ESL classrooms across the country. Smith and several local contributors will be at the Harvard Coop on Sept. 12 to read some of the memoirs and explain the backstories. They’ll also host a “Six-Word Slam,” in which guests are invited to invent their own six-word memoirs. The audience favorite will receive a free copy of the book.
Smith explained that all contributors responded to one question: What’s your story?
He said the idea for the book came about a year before the election. A friend involved with ABC’s TV show “Fresh Off the Boat” saw one of Smith’s readings and suggested the topic. Several members of the cast and crew of the show — which follows an Asian-American family as they settle in Orlando in the 1990s — have memoirs featured in the book.
Other celebrity contributors include Aziz Ansari, Mila Kunis, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Arianna Huffington, and Jeremy Lin, whose memoir is: “Abandoned the piano
for a basketball.”
Unlike previous “Six-Words Memoirs” books, which have covered topics including “Jewish life”; love and heartache; and work, “Six Words Fresh Off the Boat” includes photos and longer backstories for about 40 of the writers. One of them is by Boston-raised actress Diane Guerrero , of “Jane the Virgin” and “Orange Is the New Black,” whose Colombian parents were deported when she was a teenager. Her memoir is “So many things to tell you,” and her essay focuses on her reconciliation with her mother, years after she was deported.
Smith — the grandson of an immigrant who fled war in Russia in 1914 — said that although the book was not planned as a reaction to the current political climate, it does feel very timely.
“When you read these stories . . . and you understand what people went through or where they came from, if you’re maybe not so pro-immigrant, maybe you’ll think a little bit differently,” Smith said. “We do know that stories can change the world, and change hearts and minds. I hope this book is in a lot of hands of people who maybe aren’t necessarily the first ones in the world to be at the airport welcoming people from another country.”