Literary tattoos (and the story of a typewriter)

I, Amy Guth, have a tattoo and it is delightfully writerly. And, like any good tattoo, there is a backstory. A question I’m often asked is, “Did you always want to be a writer?” The answer is yes and the answer is also: I have always written. It wasn’t that I wanted to grown up one day and begin writing. Nay. It was instead the case that as soon as I knew how to write, I began to do so.
Meticulously, I drew out columns and hand-lettered the epic breaking news,
you understand, of the household, the extended family, reviewed the
television shows we watched, commented upon the gossip in the
neighborhood, the little dramas of my neighborhood playmates and the
snippets of conversations I heard from adults. Every week, if memory
serves, I drew out this labor of love by hand and pencil, edition by
edition, until, that is, the day came when I was presented with a small
blue typewriter.

The industrial revolution in my one-person newsroom was on.
With technology at my disposal, the columns and commentary, the essays
and breaking news pieces, all came faster, and what took a week then
took a day, then an afternoon. And as I tapped out my small life on my
small typewriter, characters and settings from bedtime stories–
elaborate serial fictions created by my father to negotiate an
over-enthusiastic child into sleep– began to come to mind and soon my
little newspaper published fiction, too.

Fast forward to early
2007, with one novel rounding out at six-months since release, another
waiting patiently on my MacBook (and external hard drive, and archived
in my email; I’m no fool), three more in various draft stages, I wanted
a symbol. Not a symbol of accomplishment, for that isn’t my style at
all, but a symbol of recognizing the various items in a life’s work, of
seeing progress in the lifelong tasks. It was the typewriter. It wasn’t
the object that delivered me, it was the tool I used as I shaped things
for myself. I didn’t work for it; it worked for me and by me and
because of me. For, the day I started to use the typewriter, the thing
I felt so compelled to do took a more polished form and stepped into
greater light.


So this is my writerly tattoo, of my typewriter, originally photographed with writer/editor Lynn Brewer
who bears lines from a Sylvia Plath poem, Lady Lazarus, on her
shoulderblade. We knew a photo opportunity dangled before us and
pressed our shoulders together to document the literary symbols we
documented on ourselves.

I showed you mine, now show me yours.
Let’s see your literary tattoos, people. Got links to your literary
body art? Leave them in the comments section below. Better still, if
you, readers dear, are in Chicago and have a literary tattoo, or are
anywhere with a Chicago literary tattoo (surely someone, right?) I encourage you to share it in this Chicago Literary Tattoo flickr pool, which I, being one to practice what I preach, started with the above pic of my own tattoo.

And for those merely toying with a literary tattoo, I offer inspiration: The very bold. Alice In Wonderland (and a torso). A beautiful tattoo-nod to Slaughterhouse-5. The surprisingly useful infinite alphabet

Ready? Set? Let’s see your literary ink. 

Filed under: local authors, news

Tags: literary tattoo, tattoos


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  • Infinite alphabet is cool, but it withers in comparison to 1 Corinthians Tramp Stamp. Tell me you wouldn't love to meet the pious skank that expansive backside belongs to.

  • Thanks Mommasboy, iced tea burns the nasal passages.

  • I also have a typewriter tattoo!

  • Trish, how cool! Would you add a photo of it to your flickr photo pool of Chicago literary tattoos?

  • See now I want a writerly tattoo... It's the obvious solution to the "what should I get tattooed upon my person?" question.

    Of course to have to decide what sort of writing/writerly object I might incorporate... My mother will be excited to hear that it's likely to be several years before the question is answered.

  • Mark, according to Facebook, it looks like you're about the take the literary tattoo plunge. What literary tattoo should author Mark R. Brand get, folks?

  • I also have a typewriter tattoo (they are apparently very popular), which I got to celebrate getting hired as a journalist. It's a Royal Parade, which is the same type of typewriter my mom had, where I wrote my first story (it was something about a princess and an ill-fitting crib, seriously).

    It's on my arm, near the shoulder:

  • You can find a surplus of literary tattoos here as well:

  • Ritzcrackers! How cool! Do you have this typewriter? Trish? Do you have yours? I have mine, though, admittedly, it's more of a bookend now. Will you share yours, Ritzcrackers, in the flickr pool, too?

  • In reply to AmyGuth:

    Thanks! I do not have it anymore, I'm sure it got pitched by my clutter-free mother years ago. And I'd love to add it to the pool.

  • In reply to AmyGuth:

    Hey Amy,

    I write for as their Chicago Tattoo Designs Examiner and was wondering if I could do a piece on your tattoo. It would possibly include quotes from your blog and use of the photo of your ink. Is that ok? I'm really excited to write this piece and it would only cost your "okay!" The piece would link back to the original blog post as well, generating even more traffic for you. If this seems like a thing to do, let me know!

    Eric Fisher

  • In reply to AmyGuth:

    To give you some idea of how deeply my life has sunk into book editing lately, my first thought when you asked me that was whether or not the literary tattoo I'd get was in the Public Domain.

  • In reply to AmyGuth:

    I just posted mine, although I wonder if there could be argument that Greek mythology is not "literary" exactly. (It's of the 3 golden apples that recur in tales of Atalanta, Paris, Aphrodite...)

  • I have one, and I might as well show it myself since you'll see it all over if you look around the literary tattoo communities:

  • Well, I should say I have more than one, but the one I posted is the most popular.

  • Bibliogrrl, thanks for sharing yours! How cool. Would you like to add it to your flickr pool as well? We'd love to have it in there too.

  • Thanks!

  • Alas, I'm a writer with an owl tattoo. Not a lit tat persay, but the owl is a symbol seen throughout literature and history.

    According to WikiAnswers (, owls symbolize "wisdom, the ability to see things that are hidden, stealth, swiftness, darkness, freedom, dreams, shape-shifting, secrets, omens, clairvoyance, astral projection, magick, deception, observation, total truth, night, death and misfortune. They are connected to the Underworld and the Moon. They are connected to The Goddess in general, as well as Athena, Mari, Lilith, Anath, Gwynn ap Nudd, Blodeuwedd, Yama and Cailleach."

  • Kate, you never know! My tattoo story is so sentimental, my folks had little choice but skew rather proud of my typewriter.

  • Kate - I reminded my mom this week of what she said when I got my first tatoo, "Well, you know, Cher is having all of hers removed." and then "At least I'll be able to identify your body when you die."

    Ahem. Cher didn't stop me and I've gotten three more to help with body identification. None are literary. Three are geography related and one is just art.

  • I've been thinking about getting a tattoo of my favorite poem... the hard part is deciding which poem! This is good inspiration- thank you!

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