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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Keelyn Chambers's picture
Keelyn Chambers April 11, 2012 - 10:53am
Anne-Marie Ormsby's picture
Anne-Marie Ormsby April 11, 2012 - 11:44am
corteztheki1ler's picture
corteztheki1ler April 11, 2012 - 1:30pm


"For life's not a paragraph, and death I think it's no parenthesis." ~ ee cummings


(this picture has it backwards, but hey -- life can be a little backwards sometimes)

Emily Rose's picture
Emily Rose April 11, 2012 - 10:32pm


This is a verse from poet Denise Levertov. To me, the 'wand' is a pen, and it's about how words can create and transform worlds. 

Donald Hughes's picture
Donald Hughes April 12, 2012 - 10:29am


This is my tattoo. It is a work in progress by Mr. Tanane Whitfield at Studio Evolve in Virginia Beach, Virginia. My name is Donald Hughes II, and I LOVE all things William S Burroughs. I decided after seeing Tanane's unique style to give him some Naked Lunch references and he ran away with it. Theres a Mugwump wearing a signature Burroughs' fedora, with a syringe replacing the feather, and the top of my hand is covered by Clark Nova the roach/typewriter (talking anus and all). Theres also orange mugwump jizzum, and a snazzy argyle band on the hat (in the colors of my english football team i support West Ham) I can't be happier and it only gets better everytime i go back for more. Thank you for looking and I hope you enjoy. (Hope I win )

TurtleKnitta's picture
TurtleKnitta April 12, 2012 - 10:42am

My tattoo from Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends:

cpvarnum's picture
cpvarnum April 12, 2012 - 11:05pm

My first tattoo. Completed March 24, 2012.

The idea is derived from Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters. Beginning of Chapter 7-- the entire quote being: "But fate is a cunning hussy; and builds her work as imperceptibly as a bird builds her nest."

Oh, and the writing is modeled after Gaskell's handwriting-- (look at that B!!) ahem. It is positively beautiful.

Thank you, Constantin!


FortBarticus's picture
FortBarticus April 13, 2012 - 12:19am

A while ago I was in a tough place; I wasn't able to pay all my bills and was struggling emotionally as well. My brother and his family opened their home to me until I got back on my feet. My brother means the world to me so I thought I would incorporate his life with my life in a tattoo. He is a high school English teacher and his favorite novel is To Kill a Mockingbird. I found a line that sums up my life and my connection with my brother: "You rarely win, but sometimes you do." My life seemed to be one stroke of bad luck after another, but I got really lucky to have the brother I do. (Tattoo by Nick Fabini at Cardinal Tattoo in Fort Wayne, IN)

schanson's picture
schanson from Currently residing in Austin, Texas is reading Franny and Zooey by Salinger April 13, 2012 - 11:45am

The Dark Tower by Stephen King. This is from one of the end scenes, as Roland approaches his destination at sunset.

Craig Foster's picture
Craig Foster April 14, 2012 - 1:12am

From a young age I was surrounded by bikers and hippies with traditional artwork, I knew I had to get involved whenever I could. My first tattoo was a Grim Reaper on my back, an extremely dark piece to symbolize the constant force of change everpresent in our lives... I do not have a lot, but I have a few pieces i'm proud of....
In my midteens I began writing a lot of poetry, typically dark of teen angst. I was told my work reminded a Family friend of someone called William Blake... At the time I had no idea Blake was. That soon changed.
By far some of the most insightful and beautiful words I have read.
The art on my ribs, inspired by Songs of Innocence and Experience, by William Blake.

Craig x

Easy writer - bad reader's picture
Easy writer - b... April 16, 2012 - 7:38am

‘I am my cage’

I guess I am late for the competition, but I think my tattoo is fitting in this series, so I like to show it. Sorry for the long text.

This quote refers both to my personal life, the visual art I create and my atheistic and materialistic ideas (I don’t believe in a soul or other supernatural, non-materialistic things.)
The quote comes from an essay I wrote on my ideas and motives of my (visual) art. Since I use my life story and body regurlarly, I wanted to that my body is all I have and all I am.
Lateron, I got very sick and during those times one really feels that ones body influences completely your mind. Now I have a chronic disease and thought it would be appropiate to have the text ‘I am my cage’ as a tattoo.

I designed the tattoo such that it also reflects what it says, therefore I designed a very rigid font with straight lines. The final shapes can associated with a cage, with a lock, with a cell window with bar or as a representation of the spine segments underneath the skin.
Also the transparency is important, because the tattoo has a similar relation with my skin as I have with my body: without my skin, it is just ink, not a tattoo. This way the tattoo and my  body are in dialogue, and the straight lines will bend, due to my body shape and to aging of my skin.
The tattoo is located on my back at the spot where angels are often assumed to have wings. This underlines my disbelief in the supernatural and I guess flying is one the main action people cannot perform due to the limits of the human body.

ps vertically is the 'I am my' and the square is 'cage'

athor's picture
athor April 18, 2012 - 8:12am


lye burn from fight club. . .

shadowofeve's picture
shadowofeve from Minnesota is reading American Gods April 25, 2012 - 3:20pm

I have two literary tattoos.  My first one is a tattoo from Lord Byron's "Don Juan."  It is located on my inner left forearm.  I consider myself a poet and after receiving my BA degree in Social Work, I have learned of my passion for human rights and equality.  I also find myself loving and hating certain characters from books I have read.  I find the quote I received as my first tattoo represents my strong emotions and strong draw toward writing and literature. 

"...the deep passions flashing through her form
Made her a beautiful embodied storm."

My second tattoo is a fragment of Lord Byron's "Manfred."

I grew up with a mother who was, and still is, a very strict Christian.  Being sent to bible school, to bible school, to bible school, I also grew up with a very strong sense of morality.  I graduated from a Catholic Liberal Arts College and went through many faith conversions as a result.  I have noticed that no matter what religion I am drawn to, one of my beliefs remains consistent. I believe all humans are of the earth and of the divine. This tattoo is a representation of my beliefs, and a show of my love for my favorite writer, Lord Byron.

"But we, who name ourselves its sovereigns, we,
Half dust, half deity, alike unfit
To sink or soar, with our mix'd essence make
A conflict of its elements..."


Emma C's picture
Class Facilitator
Emma C from Los Angeles is reading Black Spire by Delilah Dawson July 8, 2012 - 7:49pm

I have two literary tattoos (the rest of my work is video game and Star Wars-centered). 

The first is a quote from the end of Truman Capote's novella Breakfast at Tiffany's, in which the cat has a home (the ellipsis is to cover up an inadvertent period inserted by the artist):

I have a quote from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, with accompanying messenger ravens:


Robert.B's picture
Robert.B from Northern Ireland is reading The Last of the Savages By Jay McInerney August 11, 2012 - 12:51pm

I have one Literary tattoo, like a lot of other people it's a quote from Fight Club,

MarkMayers's picture
MarkMayers May 15, 2020 - 3:09am

I didn't get a tattoo, I get a divorce :(