Emily Lloyd discusses '6 Words Minneapolis'

"6 Words Minneapolis" at Shoebox Gallery
"6 Words Minneapolis" at Shoebox Gallery
Photo by Emily Lloyd

Emily Lloyd is on a mission to gather six-word memoirs from Minneapolis residents. So far, she has collected about 750, but she knows that's just barely scratching the surface.

The poet-turned-public-artist has been working on her "6 Words Minneapolis" project for about a year, gathering the super-short memoirs through social networking sites, submission posters in coffee shops, and from commenters online. She prints them on black paper with white letters, and has displayed them in libraries, at the Midtown Market, and at the Shoebox Gallery on Chicago Avenue by Lake Street.

This weekend, she'll be installing a new exhibit on Franklin Avenue near Nicollet for the Artists in Storefronts Project. We recently spoke to Lloyd about her project, and what she hopes to achieve by collecting the short-form stories of as many Minneapolis residents as possible. 

How did you get the idea to do "6 Words Minneapolis"?

The idea of a six-word memoir is not new. Smith Magazine popularized it. They put together general anthologies. I have a background in poetry, and I was interested in the six-word memoir as a form. What can I accomplish within these constraints? What can I evoke in this form? 
"6 Words Minneapolis" at Shoebox Gallery
"6 Words Minneapolis" at Shoebox Gallery
Photo by Emily Lloyd

How did the idea become a public art project?

I work at a public library. I decided, about this time last year, to put up a giant piece of paper, and invite people to write their own six-word memoir. It seemed more significant to me than reading an anthology. The people who contributed were the people who were standing there every day. The place deepened the meaning of it for me. I found myself feeling more compassion for the people in the building. I thought, "Okay, have I lived here five years. I love this city. I'm going to try to do this on a larger scale." 

I came home and put it on Facebook. I was excited about it. I set up a free blog and survey monkey to create a process where people could submit their six-word memoirs. 

How did that work out? 

I immediately realized that it was not going to work out that well if I wanted to reach people who don't have Internet or who weren't friends with my Facebook friends. Ideally the project would be as representative of the city as possible. 
"6 Words Minneapolis" at Shoebox Gallery
"6 Words Minneapolis" at Shoebox Gallery
Photo by Emily Lloyd

So what did you do then?

I decided to make up submission posters, where I described the project, and invited people to submit their first name, age, and neighborhood, along with their memoir. I emailed tons of restaurants and bars and cafes, asking if I could maybe put up the posters in their bulletin boards or bathrooms. I didn't get much response. Maybe if I was a little more aggressive, I would have gone in and shaken hands. I have a hard time with that. 

Who did respond? 

I got an immediate response from a few places -- Blue Moon Café, Seward Café, Anodyne, and Second Moon Coffee Café. All four of them are coffee places that tend to attract the same crowd. I'm getting a little more momentum now with the press I've been getting and the Shoebox Gallery display. I also emailed every English and ESL teacher in Minneapolis high schools and middle schools. A few did respond, and that accounts for a lot of the teenage submissions. I also do workshops in senior centers, and have been incorporating the six-word memoir into one of the exercises, and ask permission to use their work in my project. The oldest participant to date is 99-years old, Gabriel at Southwest Senior Center.

What is her memoir?

"I'm 99 I'm still a musician." 
"6 Words Minneapolis" at Shoebox Gallery
"6 Words Minneapolis" at Shoebox Gallery
Photo by Emily Lloyd

Who is the youngest participant?

A four-year-old child. The memoir is: "Go to the park and play."

How have you transformed this project from something web-based to a tangible, visual piece?

You need to have some kind of visual product. Every memoir consists of a black rectangle, with the memoir in white font. It sets the words off, so it's not just lines of text. I experimented at first with different fonts, but I realized that was an idiotic idea. The words were lost when I exerted influence on them. Now everyone has the same space. It's very minimalist. 

How did your exhibit at Shoebox Gallery come about?

I just emailed the curator, Sean Smuda. The Shoebox is exactly the kind of space that was perfect for the project. I also had an exhibit over the holidays across the street at the Midtown Global Market. I didn't want it all to be digital. On Flickr, it's all tagged by neighborhoods. But I wanted folks to see it. Like a person walking down Chicago Avenue suddenly sees it in the window of Roberts Shoes. That did seem to be the case when I was hanging them. I spent six hours in the window taping them all up. People would stop and turn, and just look at one -- never the same one. It was pretty neat. 


"6 Words Minneapolis"
At Shoebox Gallery in the window to the right through May 24
2948 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis
The project will also be on display at 35 E. Franklin Ave. for Artists in Storefronts, which opens April 28, and will be part of the Northern Spark Festival.

If you are a Minneapolis resident and would like to contribute your own six-word memoir, you can add it here on SurveyMonkey, or tweet your memoir (including first name, neighborhood, and age) to @6wordsmpls, or look for "6 Words Minneapolis" posters around the city and write your memoir directly onto the poster. If you'd like a poster for your establishment or office, you can contact Emily at [email protected]
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Shoebox Gallery

2948 Chicago Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55407



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