Books: The Write Stuff

InkTank works to connect the many voices of Cincinnati

Amanda Davidson

Man on a mission: InkTank's Jeff Syroney

The Writer's Weekend might be InkTank's biggest annual event, but it's far from all they do. The 'Tank's Main Street "World Headquarters" regularly houses an every-other-Thursday writer's salon, monthly open mic nights, a Book Bank featuring works by local writers and an art gallery.

Events this year have included the Fringe Festival hit Stories From Behind the Wheel (staged on a bus) and the World's Largest Human Typewriter, which won the "Most Original Entry" award in Northside's 4th of July Parade.

Executive Director Jeff Syroney recently took a few minutes from his hectic schedule to answer questions about the organization's place in the community and how it works to fulfill its mission of "Changing Cincinnati one word at a time."

CityBeat: How do you describe InkTank to the uninitiated? What do you want people to know?

Jeff Syroney: That's a hard one. When you try to boil it down to the 30-second elevator speech you miss so many things. InkTank is a large group of people who care about writing but also about each other and the city they live in. It's a growing community where rich and poor, brown and white, novice and professional bounce off each other at wonderfully strange events and programs.

It's a place where all voices are respected and encouraged to share.

CB: What is the biggest misconception about InkTank?

JS: People often wonder if we're a social service agency or an arts organization. We're an arts organization. We're in the business of writing and introducing the act of writing to as many different people as we can, including drug addicts, runaway teens and the homeless.

CB: What sort of reaction do you get from the surrounding community?

JS: Some of our neighbors are not happy with our street writers concentrated in one place on Main Street. I guess some people think that if the homeless are spread out they will become invisible and no one will know they're there. We work with our neighbors. All of them, even the ones without addresses.

CB: You've received some criticism for paying street people $2 to write. What's the deal?

JS: The $2 is part of our Word On The Street Program, which is returning in November. We invite street writers to come in and work with one of our writers-in-residence. They write a page on a given topic and we pay them $2. A lot of people want to know what we think they do with that money. I don't follow them or ask. I assume some might buy lunch. Or dope. Or beer. Or formula. Maybe they sock it away in their 401K. No one asked me what I did with my check last time I got paid, so it doesn't seem like something we need to ask these people. I think the misconception is we give $2 away. We don't. We commission these people as writers. We're interested in what they say, and we pay them for it.

CB: Let's say you've been given a blank check. What are the three items at the top of your wish list?

JS: Blank check, huh? Immediately I would say a bathroom, air conditioning and a pest-free workplace. But that would be wasting the Genie's wishes, wouldn't it? Our own space would be great. We all have bigger ideas than our current space can hold. We're also looking for ways to get our stories out to broader audiences. What if we had our own publishing company? Sustainability is our number one goal. Creating an endowment so we could live with some security would be a huge blessing.

CB: What do you think is best thing about InkTank?

JS: Its people. All of them. And they're so passionate and deliciously weird. Some days it's frustrating, but when you look back it's the faces of this strange community ... that's what makes you smile at the end of the day.

WRITER'S WEEKEND takes place Friday and Saturday at various downtown locations. For more information, call 513-542-0195.

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