Cover Story: Spreading the Word

InkTank remains committed to its mission despite challenges

Raven Bull

InkTank's Board President Tyrone Williams

InkTank is still kicking. Following months of speculation and internal wrangling, the nonprofit literacy center announced in late April that it was moving from a small staff of paid employees to an all-volunteer organization and that it will relocate from its 1311 Main St. location to the Peaslee Neighborhood Center on 14th Street.

A fixture in Over-the-Rhine since its founding four years ago, InkTank has thrived as an invaluable community resource dedicated to the written word, offering everything from open mic nights and writers' salons to programs like Word on the Street, which gives voice to and supports people living in its often neglected home-base neighborhood. InkTank's mantra of "changing Cincinnati one word at a time" has come to fruition via dedicated volunteers and a focus on those who might otherwise be overlooked because of age, race and other socioeconomic factors like education and geography.

Yet all isn't rosy: Arts organizations of every stripe are suffering amid the current economic climate, none more than those dedicated to literary endeavors. InkTank Director Ann Fine, who moved to Cincinnati from Arizona for the job last December, left InkTank in the wake of the recent changes.

"The move to an all-volunteer organization is necessitated by the lack of funding we have been able to secure from various organizations like, for example, the Ohio Arts Council," says Tyrone Williams, a Xavier University literature professor who serves as InkTank's board president.

Williams is upbeat despite the challenges, saying the changes will actually help InkTank in the long run.

"We will become a 'virtual' organization, organizing events via a new Web site ( that we are in the process of updating," he says. "We think we will be able to extend our reach throughout the metropolitan area as we host events under our rubric without being tied to a specific physical space."

But don't think InkTank is abandoning its roots.

"We will still have a role to play in the Over-the-Rhine community since so many of our events occur there and we will host events out of Peaslee," Williams says. "So we are not leaving Over-the-Rhine, simply relocating."

The latest in the organization's long line of community-nurturing efforts is the first ever InkTank Writing Contest, which asked aspiring area writers to submit original pieces no longer than 4,000 words. Local novelist and UC professor Brock Clarke chose the winner, Marie Steele O'Nan's "The Trees in Falmouth, Kentucky," a vividly rendered short story about a 12-year-old girl in the throes of change. In addition to having the story published in this week's CityBeat (read it here), O'Nan receives a $200 cash award.

Sarah Strickley, host of the InkTank Writers' Salon, sees the contest as another example of the organization's commitment to local writers.

"The writing competition is an ideal opportunity for InkTank to play a role in showcasing and supporting emerging literary talent in Cincinnati," she says. "We know many fine local writers of every stripe because it's our job to serve them every day. Offering rewards such as publication, public recognition and a little cash is a natural extension of our service to area writers. It's also an opportunity to bring the active and energized community of writers in Cincinnati to the attention of the larger arts community and to invite others to join us in celebrating all that this city has to offer."

Like Williams, Strickley believes InkTank's recent changes will ultimately yield a stronger organization.

"I think the move to an all-volunteer basis will allow InkTank to streamline and refine its mission in a positive way," she says. "I'm very excited about the future of the organization as we make plans to debut a new Web identity, new programming and as we begin to mobilize our deep volunteer base in new ways.

"We're taking care to build a sound foundation. And from there, the sky's the limit."

INKTANK will be honoring the finalists of its writing contest on May 30. Festivities begin at 7:30 p.m. at InkTank (1311 Main St., Over-the-Rhine) and culminate with readings by the three finalists.