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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Jennifer WolfSchwallie's picture
Jennifer WolfSc... April 6, 2012 - 9:13pm

I have two tats that are direct from books. The first is the classic paraphrase from The Outsiders, "Stay Gold." The second is an illustration from the backcover of a childrens book Fly By Night.

jcisdead's picture
jcisdead April 6, 2012 - 10:38pm

Here's a link to a flickr set of my tattoo inspired by Watchmen and the recurring Hiroshima lovers imagery throughout the text. The embracing skeletons are taken directly from a panel in the GN and the background is the doomsday clock set over a nuclear detonation. I found the imagery very powerful--the idea that we as humans have the capacity to destroy human life on such a massive scale juxtaposed with the idea that in our final moments of life all that's left is too embrace another human being. Tattoo by Neil Nelson, Ascension Custom Dermagraphics, Orlando, FL.

Knm99's picture
Knm99 from Ohio is reading The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz April 6, 2012 - 11:00pm
kidwinoceros's picture
kidwinoceros from San Francisco, CA April 6, 2012 - 11:56pm

this one should be obvious, i think.
i try to live by it.

Courtney Gillette's picture
Courtney Gillette April 7, 2012 - 9:18am

All of my tattoo ideas start as stories. I had long ago written a short story about a camp counselor who crushes out on a visiting teacher who has tattoo of a typewriter on her arm. The idea seemed too good to remain fiction. It's an Underwood Universal Champion of 1935. It has prompted all sorts of conversations, from an old man on the A train telling me he learned to type on one just like it, to the guy who chased me for a block up First Avenue, yelling, "Is that a Royal?", to the third graders I taught who thought it was a cash register (I brought in my Remington to teach them otherwise). In short, it's one of the best stories I have. 

Fran Fay's picture
Fran Fay April 8, 2012 - 4:18pm

My first tattoo is from Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary. I was invoved with Riot Grrrl NYC in the late 90's and we would often use this illustration with the caption "Riot = Not Quiet" below it.


My second tattoo is from "Where the Wild Things Are."

Becca Burzlaff's picture
Becca Burzlaff April 7, 2012 - 11:46am!/BeccaBurzlaff/status/188693680796876800/photo/1

I'm a creative writing major. I absolutely idolize Chuck Palahniuk and his unique writing style. I decided a few years back, that I should have a literary tattoo, and one from one of my favorite authors. So, I flipped through the pages of Fight Club until I found the perfect one, "May I never be complete. May I never be content. May I never be perfect." I decided to go with "May I never be perfect" done by Katelyn Crane from MD Tattoo in Northridge California. This tattoo is to remind me that no one is fucking perfect and to stop killing myself striving for perfection. Sorry about breaking the first two rules by the way.... 

unerklarlich's picture
unerklarlich April 7, 2012 - 12:44pm

Tenniel's original illustration of Alice fighting the Jabberwocky from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I'm planning an Alice sleeve, the next one I'm getting is on my forearm.

Jenniy French's picture
Jenniy French April 7, 2012 - 1:08pm


This piece is from a children's book titled Kitten's First Full Moon. I started reading this book to my son while he was still in utero. He's 6 now and actually just started reading it to me. The image is from one of the illustrations in the book with his first and middle name etched into the tree. 

Brittany Davis's picture
Brittany Davis from Pittsburgh is reading Tell-All April 7, 2012 - 1:09pm

My "Invisible Monsters" tattoo. "When did the future switch from being a promise to a threat?"

The face didn't turn out the way I wanted it, but it works until I can fix it. It still means a lot to me, just at the book and the quote does.

ashleypropps's picture
ashleypropps from Long Island is reading Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion April 7, 2012 - 4:13pm


When I was six years old, my dad died.  Ten years later, I read Fight Club for the first time and was knocked on my ass by the scene that took place in the medical center at the narrator's college.  He had a birthmark on his right foot - his dad always said it looked like Australia.  But sitting in that medical center, over a decade after his dad left, a resident mistook it for a rare form of cancer and thought he was dying.  What was a harmless birthmark became malignant strictly through the loss of the narrator's father, his proper context.  And so my Australia, the cancer that I don't have.


Lauren DeAugustine's picture
Lauren DeAugustine April 7, 2012 - 8:29pm

Dhruv Aditya Govil's picture
Dhruv Aditya Govil April 7, 2012 - 9:06pm


These are the 7 Endless from Neil Gaiman's incredible Sandman series. There are 8 figures, Dream, Death, Destruction, Delirium (formerly Delight), Dream, Despair, Desire and Destiny. There are quite a few meanings to the layout, but mostly it's 'Nothing stands in the way of your dreams'. 

The little squigle in the bottom left of the tattoo is Neil Gaiman's signature that I got tattooed the day after he signed it for me.

It features on my left inner forearm and I personally drew it up. My second tattoo but gets a lot of stellar reactions.

Alan Dubinsky's picture
Alan Dubinsky from Portland is reading A Very Minor Prophet April 8, 2012 - 10:26am

Lauren Davis's picture
Lauren Davis April 8, 2012 - 11:13am

My favorite quote from my favortie book, Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk.

Carla's picture
Carla April 8, 2012 - 1:12pm

Here's mine... ... I got it almost 2 years ago.

It's a HST quote from Kingdom of Fear. Words to live by, in my opinion.


Patrick Anderson's picture
Patrick Anderson April 8, 2012 - 1:23pm

Writing Addict. Also have a Stephen King quote ("Fiction is the truth inside the lie") and the barcode of Stephen King's The Stand.

Mandy Trombley's picture
Mandy Trombley from All over is reading Untamed State April 8, 2012 - 4:25pm

My first tattoo is 2 lines of my favorite Kerouac "haiku."  It says, "Snap your fingers stop the world"

My other tattoo is on my shoulder.  It is a J.D. Salinger quote from "Semour: An Introduction" that reads "Please accept from me this unpretentious bouquet of very early-blooming parentheses: (((())))."!/photo.php?fbid=383403152769&set=a.445257427769.228783.695392769&type=3&theater

I hope my links work...

Camila Rizzi's picture
Camila Rizzi from São Paulo, Brazil is reading "the gods themselves" isaac asimov April 8, 2012 - 4:55pm

This is my George Orwell's "1984" tattoo.

It's meant to look like an irregular imprint.

modcow's picture
modcow April 8, 2012 - 5:29pm

It is really simple ink, but full of meaning to me.  My husband is a former actor, and both of our children are named for Shakespeare characters.  The tattoo references each child's name.

There is one bird for each baby, also with symbolic meaning.  

Amazing contest - it has been a blast to see everyone's great tattoo work!  Can't wait to see the rest of the postings.  


kickupdust's picture
kickupdust April 8, 2012 - 6:09pm
this is a terrible photo, but it's Anne Carson's translation of Sappo fragment 24C (in If Not, Winter). everything is as it appears in the book, down to font.
promise it is actually straight... when I'm standing straight! 
.'s picture
. April 8, 2012 - 9:34pm

Wow guys! Every tattoo is super awesome!

beatdom's picture
beatdom April 8, 2012 - 11:08pm

I have three literary tattoos on my left arm: Hunter S. Thompson's Gonzo fist, the first line of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl", and mostly recently a portrait of William S. Burroughs:

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts April 9, 2012 - 4:54am

I have a few shitty tattoos. The one I don't mind is the Gonzo fist. My father was a hard drinking and drugging journalist who I loved, Hunter S. Thompson was the first or one of the first "adult" writers I read whose voice I fell in love with. After they both died on me I did a lot of drinking and drugging and writing and got this tattoo with my dad's nickname "Doc" in the middle.


Peter W. Knox's picture
Peter W. Knox April 9, 2012 - 6:56am

I have two literary tattoos.

This is the chapter header symbol from David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest on my left wrist.

DFW Tattoo

It reminds me that "I am in here" and that life is “about being in the moment and paying attention to the things that matter…”

My other is Hunter S. Thompson's gonzo fist/brand above my right ankle:


I wrote my thesis about him and he killed himself in the middle of my research and then I went to his funeral where he was launched out of a 153 ft cannon with this symbol on top. And then I ended up coming to New York at the same age he did, to work in publishing like he did, and this is there to remind me to throw myself into things and to learn to fly on the way down, as he said. Yeah, you know, like falling down an elevator shaft and landing in a pool of mermaids. That’s Gonzo. And those are my tattoos.

Aurora KillPoet's picture
Aurora KillPoet April 9, 2012 - 1:00pm

The star is for the KillPoet Press, which before I co-owned, was the first house to publish me. 

"So shines a good deed in a weary world" is Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, misquoting William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Portia says "so shines a good deed in a naughty world." 

I appreciated Wilder Willy's need for that line to deliver compassion, not judgment.

anneboleyn's picture
anneboleyn April 9, 2012 - 1:43pm

alice opening the door to wonderland


Lance Michael Giegerich's picture
Lance Michael G... April 9, 2012 - 1:58pm

This was my first tat, and my only one that is from a previously existing image. It is an image from the artwork on the Alan Parsons Project's album TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION which are their musical interpretations of select works of Edgar Allan Poe. Poe has always been a favorite of mine, both his stories and poetry, and I find myself revisiting his works very often since I read his entire body of lit by the time I was 11 years old. I have Poe with me always- his complete collection lives on my iPhone, MacBook, nook, and my right calf.

pngnlove's picture
pngnlove April 9, 2012 - 2:15pm

Romulus and Remus from Livy's History of the Roman People accompanied by the words Lupus Deus Est (and yes that is a Doctor Who reference). 

elliemay's picture
elliemay from San Diego is reading Great Expectations April 9, 2012 - 3:15pm

Wow, what a great showing! I don't envy the judges. Here are a few of mine:

Where the Wild Things Are

Breakfast of Champions

The Missing Piece Meets the Big O

Line from Allen Ginsberg's poem Song

Oy from The Dark Tower Series


Caitlin Jackson's picture
Caitlin Jackson April 9, 2012 - 4:02pm

I have five literary tattoos. The first is from Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughter House Five:

"Everything Was Beautiful And Nothing Hurt"



The second is from J.D. Salinger's Catcher In The Rye:

"Don't Let Me Disappear"


The third is another Vonnegut tattoo from his short story "2BR02B"


The fourth is the cover work from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies:


The last and most recent (less than two weeks old) is from the nursery rhyme "Hey Diddle, Diddle":

"And the dish ran away with the spoon"




Mr Wu's picture
Mr Wu from Minnesota is reading Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook April 9, 2012 - 6:06pm

My favorite work of fiction is "Candide" by Voltaire.  I spent several years trying to firure out the best way to represent my love for the story.  After deciding against several different direct quotes and a reproduction of an illustation by Alan Odle from a 1922 printing of Candide I decided to pick my favorite passage and give total creative license to my tattoo artist.  The following was the passage I chose;


“Do you believe,” said Candide, “that men have always massacred each other as they do to-day, that they have always been liars, cheats, traitors, ingrates, brigands, idiots, thieves, scoundrels, gluttons, drunkards, misers, envious, ambitious, bloody-minded, calumniators, debauchees, fanatics, hypocrites, and fools?”
“Do you believe,” said Martin, “that hawks have always eaten pigeons when they have found them?”
“Yes, without doubt,” said Candide.
“Well, then,” said Martin, “if hawks have always had the same character why should you imagine that men may have changed theirs?”

I couldn't be more happy with the art on my arm, and that is why the same artist (Nic Skrade) is currently working on a full sleeve on my right arm.

andros13's picture
andros13 from Jersey City, NJ is reading Zone One, by Colson Whitehead April 9, 2012 - 7:10pm

So I have two. The oldest is two lines from the epic of Gilgamesh on my right shoulder, in the original Neo-Assyrian:ana bal-t'i izibu nasasa / shu'uttum ana bal-t'i ni'issata izib, or "To the living, the gods leave only sorrow, and to the living, dreams are painful." Though it sounds like me and Sylvia Plath are going appliance shopping, this segment is taken from the greater context of "Don't let the bastards get you down... you had a badass life, and dreams and illusions should not be your undoing."

The second is from Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil:

I steered clear of the original German, because it was a little too... too... well, you know. To me, this tattoo is a reminder (do not become the thing you hate) and a reminder (don't dwell on things too long or they will consume you).


optimusleghorn's picture
optimusleghorn from Albuquerque, NM April 10, 2012 - 9:07am

Here's my literary ink:

My tattoo has the old daylong-bender-and-hey-let's-all-get-tattoos origin story. But this one was worth it because I got to tell the tattoo artist, "Don't forget the butterfly." And immediately after I got inked, I decided to destroy my literary street cred by heading to the nearest grocery and picking up a copy of The DaVinci Code.

axcastleman's picture
axcastleman from Seattle is reading Robert Heinlein April 10, 2012 - 9:25am

As a travel writer, I got my first tattoo in Tahuata, part of French Polynesia's remote Marquesas Islands, where the art form revived after missionary supression. Here it is against the backdrop of the "Invisible Bay" of Vaipaee off Ua Huka.

The tattoo combines my two lifelong passions: the ocean and writing. The script (my own) reads "scrivere," which means "to write" in Italian, honoring my family heritage and years spent living in Rome. The symbol – Polynesian, but common to many cultures – represents the sea and was the super-ouchy part of the tat.

I did my second tattoo more traditionally, sharing its intention and backstories with master-artist “T” – Tetini Pekopo of Aroa, Rarotonga – who then crafted a design.

The result: not so literary, but twice as beautiful...

Ben Peller's picture
Ben Peller from Los Angeles vía Chicago is reading Watchmen, Hunter S. Thompson's letters April 10, 2012 - 9:54am

Greetings All!


First off, freaking awesome tattoos! Great to see so many writers carving ink into their skin in the name of literature! Am happy to become a member of the group. I tried to attach a picture directly, but I don't quite know how to do it. Hell with it. It's nine forty in the morning and I'm on my second cocktail. It's pretty cool being a writer. Being that I'm a bit of a moron when it comes to computers, I've abandonded the hope of actually being able to navigate the details of attaching a live pic of my tat and have simply attached a few links. The blood drops represent blood spilled on the page, and the quill pen, I believe, speaks for itself...

Happy Springtime to all!


Kristen Juchem's picture
Kristen Juchem April 10, 2012 - 10:10am

My newest ink was partly inspired by Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings"

Jane_FBS's picture
Jane_FBS April 10, 2012 - 1:55pm

Loving all these literary tattoos...favourite one so far has to be jsherlock's 'Mad to Live' Kerouac tattoo - the placement and the font are fab. As a bit of shameless self-promotion, at For Books' Sake we have a weekly series featuring literary tattoos, Tattoo Tuesdays. Might be worth investigating for anyone else who loves an excuse for some gratuitous literary tattoo perving! 

Mike Bandurian's picture
Mike Bandurian April 10, 2012 - 3:04pm


 I think my tattoo says many things and is percieved by each person differently. To me they are songs about Love, how people miss it because they are not willing to fight for it. The first song, to me, is about a man that loves a woman who he is not with. He talks about the world being on his shoulders and life is wearing down on him. But the one and only thing he wants or needs is the woman he loves. He is lost.

Now the second song is also about a man who is in love with a woman who is not around. The difference is that he would be willing to fight for it. He is willing to take the bruises for love. Sometimes the best way to deal with Love is to put it up against a wall and give it no choice but to love ; fight for it together to make it to forever. I myself dont always get it either.

Top Spoon - I Summon You

Bottom - Peter, Bjorn, and John - Up Against the Wall

April Penn's picture
April Penn April 10, 2012 - 4:56pm!/photo.php?fbid=522647723348&set=t.73700157&type=3&theater


My literary tattoo says, "A Rose is A Rose is." The tattoo is in a circle so you know to keep saying the words over and over, just like Gertrude Stein did. This starts to sound like "arose" after you say it ten times fast, which has to do with a transcendent state when the spirit arises from the body; however, to Gertrude Stein, this state involves the Rose, symbol of femaleness, sexuality, and desire.

Bookmuse's picture
Bookmuse April 10, 2012 - 6:43pm


This is my 'magic book'..spell book, Harry Potter book, whatever you want to call it...I did it to convey the feeling that books and all things bookish are magical...this great tattoo artist at Mark of the Tiki in San Francisco did it off the cuff with very little description from me as to what I wanted...I swear he read my third eye...they've since merged with Mom's in the Haight...gonna go back and get another this summer!

beccalizzzz's picture
beccalizzzz April 10, 2012 - 7:04pm

My tattoo inspired by my favorite Ralph Waldo Emerson essay "Self Reliance."

Lynne Desilva-johnson's picture
Lynne Desilva-j... April 10, 2012 - 11:36pm

These two tattoos on my back are both literary in nature. This is a slightly older pic -- the text is now white on black, but this is from when it was first inked and the lettering is so beautiful and visible here.

The centerpiece is a quote from Sartre, "have no illusions and do only what you can."

Above it, the scroll in the classic nautical star, an earlier piece, reads "to thine own self be true."

The lovely ladies to L and R are Spring and Summer, from the Czech art nouveau artist, Mucca.

Davida Gypsy Breier's picture
Davida Gypsy Breier April 11, 2012 - 5:14am


Still Life with Woodpecker, Tom Robbins

Tattoo by Josh Griffin of the Baltimore Tattoo Museum

rudolfthered's picture
rudolfthered April 11, 2012 - 8:40am

After a failed marriage, I got the last two lines of a Marlowe poem on my arm lest I forget. "Where both deliberate, the love is slight: Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?

Eric Zumbach's picture
Eric Zumbach April 11, 2012 - 9:20am

I have a Moby Dick/Pequod tattoo.  My other arm, I hope, will be for the Quijote.  We'll see.

Alyssa Ruger's picture
Alyssa Ruger April 11, 2012 - 9:53am

My tattoo is Robert Frost's poem, "Nothing Gold Can Stay." I got it after a very difficult time in my life, and it's a reminder for me every day that life is short and precious.

PakitoLestrange's picture
PakitoLestrange April 11, 2012 - 10:37am

This is my Harry Potter themed tattoo, from "The Tales of Beedle the Bard."

Keelyn Chambers's picture
Keelyn Chambers April 11, 2012 - 10:49am!/photo.php?fbid=3010329852347&set=a.1538392174825.73778.1085498610&type=3&theater  Every day I look in the mirror and i get to see the strength and humor in this quote... No matter how old i get or how my body will change over time... this will always be my most beautiful tattoo.... because everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt - Kurt Vonnegut