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Dispatches: Sharing Moments with SMITH Magazine

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SMITH Magazine is best known for its Six-Word Memoir project. In 2006, with the belief that everyone has a story to tell, Editor-in-Chief Larry Smith, Tim Barko, and Contributing Editor Rachel Fershleiser, came up with an online challenge: “Can you tell your life story in six words?”. This idea has since spawned six books and a robust online writing community.Interested in giving writers more space to flesh out their ideas, SMITH Magazine asked storytellers to write about a moment that changed their lives; and so, The Moment: Wild, Poignant, Life-Changing Stories from 125 Writers and Artists Famous & Obscure came to fruition.

Contributors, ranging in experience — some with multiple, award-winning and best-selling books to those who have never had a letter-to-the-editor published — sent in their personal stories. The Moment, going beyond the normal essay collection, features written narratives, photographs, comics, illustrations, and handwritten letters. Contributors include household names such as Jennifer Egan, Dave Eggers, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Gregory Maguire as well as up-and-coming writers such as Tao Lin and Said Sayrafiezadeh.

This week at McNally Jackson, contributors gathered to read their work to a standing-room only crowd. Kicking off the evening was experimental journalist A.J. Jacobs with his short story, “Chalk Face,” about the time he realized grown-ups are “not flawless authority figures”. Mira Ptacin, founder and executive director of the New York City-based monthly reading series and storytelling collective Freerange Nonfiction, read her story about the moment she, literally, hit the ground running and shook off the grief from the loss of an unexpected pregnancy.

There were visuals as well: a slideshow about the moment a father fell in love with his infant son, a video montage from photojournalist Gillian Laub about her grandparents’ inspiring relationship, Matt Dojny’s handwritten and illustrated story about his experience with a homeless man on the subway, and Jerry Ma’s comic panels about the time he quit his job in finance to pursue a life in art.

Now in its sixth year, SMITH Magazine continues to celebrate “the explosion of personal media and the personal stories that celebrate the brilliance in the ordinary”. Go on over and contribute your six-word memoir or, if you’re feeling particularly verbose, share your life-changing moment.

If you’re in New York and you missed this week’s reading, you have another chance to catch The Moment contributors at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn on Thursday, January 26th.

What’s on the shelf:
The Moment: Wild, Poignant, Life-Changing Stories from 125 Writers and Artists Famous & Obscure
“ The Moment is a collection of and moving personal pieces about key instances – a moment of opportunity, serendipity, calamity, or chaos – that have had profound consequences on our lives.” [via website]

Six-Word Memoir collections
“When Hemingway famously wrote, “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn,” he proved that an entire story can be told using a half dozen words. When the online storytelling magazine SMITH asked readers to submit six-word memoirs, they proved a whole, real life can be told this way too. The results are fascinating, hilarious, shocking, and moving.” [via IndieBound]

And from the readers:

My Life as an Experiment: One Man’s Humble Quest to Improve Himself by Living as a Woman, Becoming George Washington, Telling No by A.J. Jacobs
“Bestselling author and human guinea pig A. J. Jacobs puts his life to the test and reports on the surprising and entertaining results. He goes undercover as a woman, lives by George Washington’s moral code, and impersonates a movie star. He practices “radical honesty,” brushes his teeth with the world’s most rational toothpaste, and outsources every part of his life to India—including reading bedtime stories to his kids.

And in a new adventure, Jacobs undergoes scientific testing to determine how he can put his wife through these and other life-altering experiments—one of which involves public nudity.
Filled with humor and wisdom, My Life as an Experiment will immerse you in eye-opening situations and change the way you think about the big issues of our time—from love and work to national politics and breakfast cereal.” [via IndieBound]

Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology edited by Jerry Ma
This pioneering collection brings together 66 top Asian American writers, artists and comics professionals to create 26 original stories centered around Asian American superheroes – stories set in a shadow history of our country, from the opening of the West to the election of the first minority president, and exploring ordinary Asian American life from a decidedly extraordinary perspective.

Black Elephants: A Memoir by Karol Nielsen
“An aspiring writer and reporter, Karol Nielsen went trekking through the Peruvian Andes at the height of the Shining Path terror, looking for adventure and a good story. She found Aviv, an Israeli traveler fresh out of his mandatory military service—a war-weary veteran of the first intifada—dreaming about peace. Black Elephants follows this idealistic pair as they explore the Americas, until Aviv, inexorably drawn to his homeland, asks Karol to come with him to Israel. There, the couple’s lovingly laid plans—for Aviv to attend university, and for Karol to work on a kibbutz, study Hebrew, and get to know his family—are suddenly tested by the eruption of the first Gulf War. Nielsen’s memoir paints a poignant and harrowing picture of love during wartime. Against a backdrop of bursting bombs and air-raid sirens, gas masks and sealed rooms, relationships are frayed, and romance becomes a distant memory. This story, so candidly and clearly told, powerfully illustrates the terror, loneliness, and absurdity of war and its invisible casualties.” [via IndieBound]

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon. She’s written for The New York Times, Time Out, The New York Observer, and more, and is the author of “Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream.”

The Festival of Earthly Delights (forthcoming May 2012) by Matt Dojny
“The Festival of Earthly Delights is a humorous bildungsroman set in the fictional Southeast Asian country of Puchai. The protagonist, Boyd Darrow, has recently moved there with his unfaithful girlfriend to give their relationship a second chance. His adventures, and misadventures, are relayed in a series of letters to a mysterious recipient.” [via IndieBound]

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Written by Gabrielle

January 12, 2012 at 6:55 am

Dispatches: Talking DIY Culture at McNally Jackson

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Last night, McNally Jackson in SoHo hosted the panel (Re)making media: DIY, zines, punk rock, gen X and millenials in the digital age. The moderator Jacob Lewis, co-founder of a writing collective website for teens, Figment.com, was joined by Blake Nelson, whose book Dream School had been serialized and recently published by Figment, Christopher Bollen, whose book Lightning People was published by the indie press Soft Skull, Mikki Halpin, the creator of the now defunct zine Ben is Dead and the now defunct satirical website Shut Up Foodies, musician and writer Izzy Schappell-Spillman, Japanther’s Ian Vanek, and New York Times technology reporter, and recently the publisher and editor of Girl Crush Zine, Jenna Wortham.

Together, the group of panelists discussed DIY culture as it’s happening today and how technology is affecting the movement.

Most had a positive view regarding the rise of the Internet and its facilitation of independent productions. Izzy, who began her music career with the band Care Bears on Fire when she was just 8-years-old, and who is now 16, felt the online community has brought an end to isolation and has ushered in a time of quick creation. Jenna, who began as a culture blogger at the Times when she was 25, discussed that while it’s easy to get caught up in trying to be ahead of the news curve, especially when one is working for a media outlet, technology can have a profound effect on expressive culture. She mentioned Kickstarter, the online fundraising site where artists of all kinds can raise money for their projects, in particular. Blake Nelson serialized his first book, Girl, in Sassy and when he couldn’t find a publisher for the already-written sequel, Figment did the same by running it in pieces on their site.

The lone voice expressing opposition, mainly because he feels social media creates a culture of self-promotion and self-branding, was Ian Vanek. Although the most skeptical, his argument is solid: people today are too concerned with their public persona and not concerned enough with their actual art. For Vanek, he feels it’s “important to be invisible”.

A reminder of where DIY started, both Ian and Mikki spoke about the continued value of the printed zine. Online publishing platforms, with their endless opportunities for self-expression, are often corporately owned — and those companies ultimately have control over your content. The old-fashioned Xeroxed zine remains a way to share thoughts and ideas privately, or “sneakily,” as the panelists like to describe it.

Far from devolving into a trite debate about the pros and cons of the Internet, the discussion was a reminder that DIY, as an art form and ideology, is still very much a serious venture, regardless of the ease in which it can now be executed.

What’s on the shelf?

Here are just some of the projects and books created by the panelists:

Figment.com
Inspired by Japan’s cellphone novels, “Figment is a community where you can share your writing, connect with other readers, and discover new stories and authors. Whatever you’re into, from sonnets to mysteries, from sci-fi stories to cell phone novels, you can find it all here.” You can read a profile about Figment and its co-founder Jacob Lewis at The New York Times.

Girl by Blake Nelson
“Meet Andrea Marr, straight-A high school student, thrift-store addict, and princess of the downtown music scene. Andrea is about to experience her first love, first time, and first step outside the comfort zone of high school, with the help of indie rock band The Color Green.” [via IndieBound]

Dream School by Blake Nelson
“Imagining a typical ‘J. Crew/college catalogue’ experience, Andrea Marr leaves Portland to attend prestigious Wellington College in Connecticut. Surrounded by the best and the brightest, she works hard to adjust and keep up.” [via IndieBound]

Lightning People
“The fanciful premise behind the title of Bollen’s novel is that, after New York loses the lightning conductors of the Twin Towers, more and more residents die in lightning strikes. But the title also evokes the random nature of post-millennial city life, in which disaster or good fortune can strike at any time. An actor, supported by money from reruns of old commercials, pursues a sinister hobby—frequenting conspiracy-theory chat rooms and meetings. His wife doesn’t know about her husband’s fixation, distracted by her depressing job at the Bronx Zoo and her dysfunctional friends. Bollen excels at creating an atmosphere of Manhattan-specific dread, and certain scenes, particularly the account of a struggling actor’s going-away party, are tragicomic masterpieces.” [via The New Yorker]

Girl Crush Zine Edited by Jenna Wortham and Thessaly La Force
“For those unfamiliar, a girl crush is when a girl has such a deep admiration for another girl that it becomes an infatuation of sorts, though platonic in nature. Editors Jenna Wortham, a reporter for The New York Times, and Thessaly La Force, former blogger at The Paris Review, have taken this concept to the next level by celebrating girl crushes in an online and paper zine aptly called Girl Crush.” [via Laughing Squid]

Japanther
“Japanther have since made a name for themselves in unique performance situations. i.e. along side synchronized swimmers, a top the Williamsburg Bridge, with giant puppets, marionettes and shadow puppets. Out of the back of a moving truck in SOHO, with giant dinosaurs and BMXers flying off the walls.” [website] You can read an interview with Ian at The Nervous Breakdown.

Teenage Izzy Schappell-Spillman’s archive
Teenage is a film and a blog about youth culture. About the film: “Based on a groundbreaking book by the punk author Jon Savage, Teenage is an unconventional historical film about the invention of teenagers. Bringing to life fascinating youth from the early 20th century—from party-crazed Flappers and hipster Swing Kids to brainwashed Nazi Youth and frenzied Sub-Debs—the film reveals the pre-history of modern teenagers and the struggle between adults and adolescents to define youth.” [website] You can hear her perform the theme song for the teen site Rookie.

It’s Your World–If You Don’t Like It, Change It: Activism for Teenagers by Mikki Halpin
“Free Speech. Racism. The Environment. Gay Rights. Bullying and School Safety. Animal Welfare. War. Information about Safe Sex and Birth Control. Free Speech. HIV and AIDS. Women’s Rights. These are the issues you care about — and now you can do something about them. It’s Your World will show you how to act on your beliefs, no matter what they are, and make a difference.” [via IndieBound]

What are some of your favorite DIY projects? Comments are open.

Written by Gabrielle

January 5, 2012 at 5:52 am

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