Kurt Vonnegut, e.e. cummings & Shel Silverstein Are Most Popular Literary Tattoo Inspirations

By Maryann Yin Comment

Twilight tattoos are not the only contenders on the literary tattoo playing field. Novelist Justin Taylor and literary agent Eva Talmadge collaborated on a nonfiction compilation of literary tattoos based on their blog, tattoolit.com.

The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide came out this week from Harper Perennial and the trailer is embedded above. We caught up with the authors to talk about how the book came to be.

E = Eva Talmadge
J = Justin Taylor

Q: From your experience, which book/author receives the most tattoo requests?
E: Kurt Vonnegut and e.e. cummings are probably the most popular authors when it comes to literary tattoos.
J: And of course, if we had wanted to we could have done an entire book of just Shakespeare.

Q: Which children’s book illustrations are most popular?
E: Shel Silverstein, by far.

Q: What was the most interesting “story” behind a tattoo?
E: Best story by far is how Jamie Garvey of Gainesville, Florida, came to copy his e.e. cummings tattoo (“how do you like your blue-eyed boy now, mr. death?”) off the one and only Harry Crews.

Q: What inspired you to work on the literary tattoo project?
J: It happened pretty casually. Eva and I had been talking about finding a project to work on together, and we’d batted around a number of different ideas. But something about this one just seemed…right. Like we were actually onto something. Some of it was serendipity–around the same time we had the idea, I think each of us had a roommate come home with a literary tattoo. Alyssa Carver, who is in the book, was then living with Eva and she got this beautiful line of Faulkner and Drew Toal, my roommate (also in the book) has a Twain caricature and an illustration from Moby Dick. So we decided to see if this was a coincidence or an actual trend, and put a call for submissions up on HTMLGiant.com. Pictures started pouring in immediately and we were off to the races.

Q: Besides receiving photo submissions, what “writing” do you do to compliment the tattoos?
J: Every person that sent a picture in was invited to send a short paragraph describing the book that inspired their work, the circumstances under which they got the tattoo–etc. Whatever they wanted to say. Some people chose not to send anything, but most sent at least a few lines. Some went wild and sent what are really brief essays. So you hear from nearly all of the contributors, in their own words. Apart from that, there’s a short story by Donald Barthelme, a feature on Shelley Jackson’s “SKIN” project, an essay by the writer Brian Evenson about the strange experience of encountering a young man with a Brian Evenson tattoo and an introduction from Eva and I…in this case, what Eva and I did was a lot like curating–I think.

Q: Do you think you guys will be hosting an art show party?
E: We have two events coming up: a party at the powerHouse Arena on Oct. 20th, and a reading/accordion show at WORD on the 28th.

Q: Any final words you want to add?
J: The only thing I want to add is that the pictures are still coming in. People have been sending stuff to our website, tattoolit.com and we’ve been posting all of it. So if people have a literary tattoo, and want to get in on it, they shouldn’t think twice. We’d love to hear from them, and who knows but there might be another book someday.