LitInk: LitReactor's Literary Tattoo Showdown


About a week ago, we were gobsmacked when we saw the above tattoo, which was posted to the forum by jacks_username (real name: Dakota Taylor). I guess that makes us a big deal now, right? I asked Dakota why he permanently scarred this site's logo onto his forearm: 

The idea to get a LitReactor tattoo had been on my mind for a few months. It's really a homage to the online community. There are two things I love, and that is tattoos and books. When I added it up, it was an easy choice.

I've always been fascinated with tattoos that are inspired by literature. They tend to come from deep places--from words and works that have connected with people on such a profound level, they want to wear it in their skin.

I have four pieces. Two of them are inspired by literature:

The skull is from a Kurt Vonnegut sketch I found in Armageddon in Retrospect (though I redrew it in my style and with my handwriting). On my forearm is Dr. Manhattan's hydrogen atom, which is a celebration of three things: Science, one of my favorite books ever, and also getting a job where a forearm tattoo isn't taboo. 

I'm not the only staffer with literary ink. Here's my fellow columnist and news blogger Hanna Brooks Olsen

This is what Hanna said about her piece, which is on her ribcage:

In my family, tattoos are standard operating procedure--but they all have to mean something. Mine says "sometimes i take a great notion," which is both the inspiration to the title of my favorite book (Sometimes A Great Notion, by the incredible Ken Kesey, which, as a teen growing up in Eugene, Oregon, was required reading), and a line from what is probably one of the greatest songs in the American songbook, Goodnight Irene.

All this got me thinking: There are probably some people floating around here with some sweet ink.

And we just showed you ours. 

Now show us yours. 

The contest: 

Got some literary ink? Get bold. Post it. In one week, we're going to pick two winners--one male, one female. Tattoos will be judged on creativity, artistry, and general awesomeness. Your judges: Me, Dakota, and Hanna. 

How to enter:

Create a LitReactor account if you don't have one. Then, in the comments section, post a link to your tattoo, or upload a photo (you can't directly upload a photo to the site; it needs to be hosted elsewhere, like Flickr).

* If you're sharing from Facebook, and your account is set to private, we won't be able to see the photos. 

Show your face or don't, that's up to you. Explain the piece or don't, also up to you.

You can't win if you're a LitReactor staffer or instructor (though y'all are welcome to participate).

Each winner shall receive:

  • One LitReactor mug. Based on rigorous scientific testing, we've found they make coffee taste better.
  • A free eBook. My publishing house has offered to let each winner pick one free book from our lineup, in the format of your choice. Hop over to to see what we have.
  • Six months membership to LitReactor. You'll get access to our fabled writing workshop, which includes a peer review system, exclusive craft essays, and sexy parties. If you're already a paying member, this will be added to your current subscription (or you may bequeath it upon someone).  

Get posting. And if you've been sitting on a tattoo idea for a while, you could always get it done this weekend. Think of all the glory you shall receive, on the internet. 

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JackieMR's picture
JackieMR from Illinios is reading something interesting April 6, 2012 - 9:42am

I have two: one on my foot that says "To be" (From the infamous line of Hamlet's) and one on my forearm that asks "...and then what happened?" inspired by Neil Gaiman's intro to STORIES.

...and looks like I'm having trouble linking to them. Well, here's a link to the blog I just posted with the pictures:

Looking forward to seeing all the other cool literary tattoos out there!

Emily Cahill's picture
Emily Cahill April 6, 2012 - 9:47am!/photo.php?fbid=2160787306747&id=1458484585&set=t.1458484585&__user=1458484585

This is my Slaughter House 5 tattoo :)

Emily Cahill

Samu-Ville Lampiranta's picture
Samu-Ville Lamp... April 6, 2012 - 9:47am

"True grit" was taken from the line “But our trip was different. It was a classic affirmation of everything right and true and decent in the national character. It was a gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country-but only for those with true grit. And we were chock full of that.” of Hunter S. Thompson`s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Ben666's picture
Ben666 from Montreal, Canada is reading Scar Tissue, by Marcus Sakey April 6, 2012 - 9:49am

I have a tattoo that's a paragraph from "Get In The Van", by Henry Rollins. It's a bit rudimentary because I'm at work, but...


Photo 1: Just the plain text. It looks a bit crooked like that, but see Photo 2 to understand why:!/BenoitLelievre/status/188306623121469440/photo/1


Photo 2: The text follows my arm muscle when I twist my arm. So it's never really straight unless I tense up my arm and straighten it up!/BenoitLelievre/status/188306728054558721/photo/1

paigekniola's picture
paigekniola from Indiana is reading Anna Karenina April 6, 2012 - 9:51am

I have two literary tattoos. The first one I got was an homage to my favorite author, Chuck Palahniuk. It's the dead bird on the cover of my favorite book of his "Lullaby." And I am also having problems linking them in. So here's a link to the picture on my facebook.


This is my second literary tattoo, I got about 2 months ago. It says "And in that moment, I swear we were infinite." It is from one of my favorite books "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." This quote was the sole line that stuck out in the book for me, because as a teenager trying to describe that feeling you had, of freedom and frienship, it had summed it up for me.


(my litreactor username is paigekniola)


David Tombesi-Walton's picture
David Tombesi-Walton April 6, 2012 - 9:51am

This is my literary tattoo.

Link to full size here

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Library Books April 6, 2012 - 9:51am

Hey @emily: Something funky with your link.

Steven John Robson's picture
Steven John Robson April 6, 2012 - 9:52am

My first (and currently only) tattoo I have is a quote from Fight Club.


People say to me "it looks a little messy" sometimes, and they suggest I get it patched up and get it right.


I respond to these people "I don't think you quite got the point of it."

Bryan Center's picture
Bryan Center is reading The Wasp Factory April 6, 2012 - 9:53am

I have Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? written originally by Juvenal (the Roman poet, not the rapper responsible for "Back Dat Ass Up") but mine was influenced by The Watchmen comics.  I  also have the Eye Of The Crimson King from Stephen King's Dark Tower series and Cthulhu from H.P. Lovecraft.  Links below!!

Bryan Center

gregor's picture
gregor April 6, 2012 - 9:53am

gregor's Literary tatoos

Change and Direction, ...not bibilical mythology, just gut feeling...

alaskaiscold's picture
alaskaiscold April 6, 2012 - 9:55am
Cambodiaman's picture
Cambodiaman from Italy is reading Confessions of a dangerous mind April 6, 2012 - 9:55am

This is one of my tattoos... dedicated to Conrad & Brando

Joe Long's picture
Joe Long April 6, 2012 - 9:56am

This is from moby dick, but paraphrased by Picard in Star Trek First Contact.  So it's like double nerd points.

Mike White's picture
Mike White April 6, 2012 - 9:57am

This is my Vonnegut tattoo. It's from Breakfast of Champions. 

My name is Michael White, and my sister's name is Emily A. White, hence the eaw in the shadow of the man. 



Drew Danielson's picture
Drew Danielson April 6, 2012 - 10:00am

Inspired by the old Jim Croce song (so therefore literary in a broad sense), "Rapid Roy (The Stock Car Boy)".  Rapid Roy had a tattoo on his arm that said "baby", and another one that just said this:

Obviously it's on my calf, but in a letter-literal reading of the lyrics the placement of Roy's "hey" is not certain, so I think I'm still golden.  I did not get the "baby" though; times are different, and I'm a modern man afterall.  

Perhaps more literary is the Bismillah wrapped around my upper arm, but it's hard to get a full shot of it.  It's above an om inside a triquetra and below a candle copied from a Picasso painting. 


Mike White's picture
Mike White April 6, 2012 - 10:03am

I also have this:

Which is the painting that my grandmother did, which is on the cover of her book Dance at the Marina



thebookstoner's picture
thebookstoner is reading Finnikin of the Rock April 6, 2012 - 10:06am

I think it's pretty obvious what inspired me to get this tattoo.

I got this a few months after reading Stieg Larsson's Milennium series. I was a bit broken then, maybe one of my lowest points, but I got the tattoo as a reminder of Lisbeth Salander's strength and badassery. :) It's my first tattoo, by the way.

Kate Gardner's picture
Kate Gardner April 6, 2012 - 10:10am

Still had plastic on from being done. It's grok ♥. Grok from Stranger in a Strange Land.

Plus I have Scarlett O'Hara from Gone With The Wind!

MaddMaxx's picture
MaddMaxx from Nowhere exactly is reading Mostly children's books at the moment April 6, 2012 - 12:28pm

Unable to take just one photo....

J.R.R. Tolkein

I've not followed "the path" but I am no where near being lost.

This piece wraps around my right forearm, with the infinity symbol meeting the beginning and the end.


Based off the fabulous ambigram trend from Angels and Demons

It says "USMC Wife" in honor of my husband's service.

Evelyn Miska Krieger's picture
Evelyn Miska Krieger April 6, 2012 - 10:19am

This is my Ophelia drowning tattoo--sort of a double reference since it's based on Paul Steck's "Ophelia Drowning." The photo is from when I first got it, so ignore the gunkiness :)

The original:

Matt Johnston's picture
Matt Johnston April 6, 2012 - 10:22am

Divorce tattoo. Self-loathing alcoholic statement that turned into something that means a lot more now.

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones April 6, 2012 - 10:25am
Amber Clark_2's picture
Amber Clark_2 from UK is reading The Darkening Dream - Andy Gavin April 6, 2012 - 10:25am

I guess this counts as a literary tattoo, Friedrich Nietzsche quote from 'Beyond Good and Evil'

Grigori Black's picture
Grigori Black from US is reading Radium Girls by Amanda Gowin April 6, 2012 - 10:25am

Here's one of mine. It's the warrior creed from Ender's Game. In latin. (There is no teacher except the enemy... etc.)



daleyplanet's picture
daleyplanet April 6, 2012 - 10:26am

I met Allen Ginsberg in Kansas City just before he died. He was in town for the last Nova Convention of which I was lucky enough to see.

I got this just before William S. Burroughs died in Lawrence, KS.



viridianeyes's picture
viridianeyes April 6, 2012 - 10:29am

This is my homage to the great H.P. Lovecraft and his wonderful monster: the Cthulhu. This was custom drawn for me.

AlexandraElizabethWitt's picture
AlexandraElizab... from Denver is reading Beyond Civilization by Daniel Quinn April 6, 2012 - 10:36am
Allie Montoya's picture
Allie Montoya from Florida is reading American Funeral Directing April 6, 2012 - 10:42am

Working on a gonzo arm...



Alicia McMahon's picture
Alicia McMahon April 6, 2012 - 10:42am
hope1103's picture
hope1103 April 6, 2012 - 10:44am
LuckyMisfit's picture
LuckyMisfit from Everywhere, currently anchored in Los Angeles for the time being. is reading Jitterbug Perfume April 6, 2012 - 10:44am

Taken from the Shel Silverstein poem "2 Boxes".

Makes me happy every time I see it. 


Laura Slaughter's picture
Laura Slaughter April 6, 2012 - 10:46am

The Answer to the Great Question of Life, the Universe and Everything

SettleYourDust's picture
SettleYourDust from West Texas, but living in the west of Ireland is reading Honey from Stone April 6, 2012 - 10:59am

Two for your consideration:

My first tattoo. From "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night" by Dylan Thomas


My second tattoo. From "My Guitar" by Shel Silverstein.


klaysbby's picture
klaysbby April 6, 2012 - 11:10am

This is my chest piece:

Cave ab homine unius libri translates to mean beware the man of one book. People often ask me what it means. I ask them what it means to them. It's a bit of a thinker, but when I saw it while reading a text book, it just struck me as a really powerful statement and a good warning to heed!

Americantypo's picture
Americantypo from Philadelphia is reading The Bone Clocks April 6, 2012 - 11:11am

I'm sort of cheating here cause they both reference movies more than literature. One is a Creep Show tattoo and the banner says "No Future". The other one is just an homage to American Horror in general (the banner says "American Nightmare"). Note the Freddy claws in the wings.

Gimme that mug!

Americantypo's picture
Americantypo from Philadelphia is reading The Bone Clocks April 6, 2012 - 11:15am

My favorite so far is the gonzo tat and the Cthulu one.

NotMarilyn's picture
NotMarilyn from Twin Cities, MN is reading Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn April 6, 2012 - 11:19am


It's a snippet of a Ranier Maria Rilke Poem - "You see, I want a lot; perhaps I want everything: the darkness that comes from every infinite fall and the shivering blaze of every step up.

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. April 6, 2012 - 11:22am

Fuck, these are all amazing.  I want to be a tattoo someday.

frinsofthislife's picture
frinsofthislife April 6, 2012 - 11:23am
Shakespeare, Hamlet act 1:3
they want you to sink but you stood up and swam -fionn regan

frinsofthislife's picture
frinsofthislife April 6, 2012 - 11:23am
Shakespeare, Hamlet act 1:3
they want you to sink but you stood up and swam -fionn regan

Laura Dubois Lawrence's picture
Laura Dubois La... April 6, 2012 - 11:26am

This is my Dark Tower Tattoo...

Vinny Cappadora's picture
Vinny Cappadora April 6, 2012 - 11:42am

After reading Dan Brown years ago.. i've loved the idea of Ambigrams. I've drawn them in my name other people's names all sorts of shit. When my fiance and I were looking for a design for a tatoo for our anniversary.. I came up with this. 


SOLEMATES   - we met while we were running to raise money for Lukemia, we've been running together since. It's part of our lives and we often joke about us being SOLEmates .. har har.. so here's the tat. ..



Sydney Tammarine's picture
Sydney Tammarine from United States is reading The Spook Who Sat by the Door April 6, 2012 - 11:30am

In Spanish: "Aceptamos el amor que creemos merecer." Translated: "We accept the love we think we deserve" from Perks of Being a Wallflower.

I translated this line from the novel when I was in high school. In Spanish, it has a lyrical quality; there is more emphasis placed on the "we think," with undertones of belief and faith. I carried it around in my wallet for four years until I went on a study abroad trip and met an Argentinian street artist who I knew could do the sentence justice. I tattooed it on the side of my foot the very month I came home. :)

Tara Kreinbrink's picture
Tara Kreinbrink is reading Sacre Bleu April 6, 2012 - 11:35am

There are two...

The first I call a monk doodle - I have this image of a Middle Ages monk supposed to be working on transcribing text and doing calligraphy but instead starts doodling on his scroll paper - the dragon is inspired by Scarlet in Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series.

The second is a representation of my general outlook as a writer - the ink well says ERR, which means either to make a mistake or to wander, and it's through the mistakes or the wandering/unplanned events that we learn/grow/change and generally have those experiences that make the best stories.

jsherlock's picture
jsherlock April 6, 2012 - 11:35am

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!”

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this April 6, 2012 - 11:39am

Hey folks - just an FYI, some of y'all are linking to your Facebook pics, but it looks like if your profile is set to private, the link doesn't go through... or at least that's my assumption...

Michael Baker's picture
Michael Baker April 7, 2012 - 5:21am

I've got two literary tattoos, both original designs and traditional in style.




The Fight Club tat is roughly based off of a poster by Julian Ospina, although many aspects of the design were altered by myself and the artist. I chose the quote 'These Things Happen' because it succintly sums up the nihilistic and apathetic tone of the book. My reasoning for getting the tattoo is that Chuck Palahniuk was the first author whose work I really became obsessed with and he inspired me to become a writer.

The Hunter S. Thompson tat is a traditional take on the Gonzo logo and .44 magnum, with a few added Ralph Steadman-esque ink splatters around the sides. Reasoning behind this one is simply that HST was an awesome author and human being, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is probably my favourite book.

Sarah With-an H's picture
Sarah With-an H from Iowa. is reading The Contortionist's Handbook. April 6, 2012 - 11:43am

A raven on a writing desk. And below it, The Giving Tree.

I also have the Bukowski line "The tigers have found me and I do not care.", and some e.e. cummings poetry up my sides, but it's too hard to snag a pic without getting a nipple in the shot. So that's not happening.

Wonko93's picture
Wonko93 April 6, 2012 - 1:32pm

The inscription from the One Ring: