gallery Literary Tattoos
Forget butterflies or skull and bones, the new tattoo fad is Plath, Faulkner, and other quotes from famous authors. David Goodwillie talks to the authors of a new book, The Word Made Flesh, for the latest literary craze.
Sam de Brito
Manly, New South Wales, Australia
“This is Water,” the title of David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College
Talmadge: This was one of the early submissions and the first one that I got really excited about. There were originally two photos, Sam and his girlfriend. They both had matching tattoos. But she got a little shy about being in the book. We had a couple of people who just wanted their first initial. Others who wanted to be anonymous. This came from Australia. The guy who did the tattoos was a Maori cop. And the photo’s just great. I love the posed nature of it. Cordelia Brodsky
Illustrations from “Salome,” by Oscar Wilde
Taylor: Cordelia’s tattoos are Aubrey Beardsley illustrations from the first edition of Wilde’s play. The photo in the book is cropped—which is probably wise—but the full shot goes up to about the neck. A lot of the contributors seem to have gotten their tattoos to commemorate high or low points in their lives. Marriages, divorces, graduations, failures to commit suicide, diseases that didn’t quite kill them… Carey Harrison
Brooklyn, New York
The complete text of Theodor Adorno’s “For Marcel Proust,” from Minima Moralia
Taylor: Carey Harrison is a professor at Brooklyn College. I met him in his office on a very snowy day, which you can see through the window in the photo. His tattoo was incredible. There’s something really imposing about it, because he’s not a small guy. He took his shirt off and there it was: two full columns of text, untranslated German of Adorno writing about Proust. This was really the apotheosis of the literary tattoo in a lot of ways. You really can’t get more dedicated than that.
Talmadge: Did you ask him why he did this? What possessed him?
Taylor: No. I should have. Faye Orlove
“Non sum quails eram,” from “House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski
Taylor: Faye is a student at Emerson. When we received her contribution we realized the book might turn out a bit differently than we’d originally envisioned. This idea of self-representation, of people presenting their bodies and staging these images, became at least as important as the tattoos themselves. People took this as an opportunity to think through not just their reasons for getting a tattoo but their body in space. It’s really when you see the larger image—the whole person and the room that they’re in—that everything comes together. Becky Quiroga
Coral Gables, Florida
“The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” by Eric Carle (based on his original drawing)
Talmadge: Becky runs the children’s book department at Books & Books in Coral Gables, which is the best independent bookstore in South Florida. Eric Carle, the author of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” walked in one day and drew the famous caterpillar on her arm. When he left she raced down the street and had it made permanent. How cool is that? Jenni Ripley
The last line of “Ulysses” by James Joyce.
Talmadge: This was the first submission and we got exactly what we wanted: Literature with a capital “L.”
Taylor: It wound up being a very good indicator of what was to come. We had no idea what to expect when we started this, and my biggest concern was that it’d be nothing but dudes with their Bukowski tattoos. Instead the book became much more about representing the body and showing a deep dedication to individual works of literature. Bodie Shallenberger
West Lafayette, Indiana
Gravestone from “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut
Talmadge: We took some of these photos ourselves, but most of our submissions came from people sending them in. We hunted for certain photos. I searched the Internet for “literary tattoos,” just to see what was out there, and Kurt Vonnegut kept popping up everywhere. “So it goes,” “So it goes,” there were so many “So it goes” tattoos from “Slaughterhouse-Five.” We knew we had to get a few good Vonneguts. This seemed like the perfect one to end the book on. Sandra Willie
Collage of jacket covers from Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Series.
Talmadge: This one actually came to us via The Daily Beast. The Beast ran a piece about Twilight tattoos and we emailed several people featured in the slideshow. Sandra is an army wife, stationed on a base in Germany with her husband. I love her tattoo because it shows how broad the literary landscape is out there. We were looking for everything from Berryman and Plath to Twilight and Harry Potter. And we got it all.