A look inside WordPlay Cincy

by | Oct 21, 2012 | WordPlay | 26 comments

I stopped by WordPlay this afternoon. They were having a quieter moment after a very busy time earlier in the day, and director Libby Hunter took time to show me around, explain the place, and introduce me to some volunteers, kids, and typewriters.

Libby founded WordPlay after confronting some kids who were throwing rocks at windows in the neighborhood and deciding that local children needed a constructive, creative place to hang out. She sold her large Victorian and moved in with her three sons over this former retail space, which she turned into a unique community center.

WordPlay’s doors have been open only about a month, but it has attracted many kids, helped many parents, and gotten plenty of volunteer support from designers, teachers, and more. Libby says that my arrival the other day was serendipitous; they were down to one working typewriter, kids were waiting in line to use it, and she was wondering whether to splurge on professional typewriter repair.

WordPlay follows the 826 model and may eventually become an official 826 chapter. The idea is to create an exciting, creative place where kids can write, along with a quirky retail store that will help to support the center. The plan here is to incorporate a store called the Urban Legend Institute.

You can visit WordPlay’s web site here and read news stories about it here and here.

Now let’s look around:

Spots like this provide plenty of material to spark imaginations. Notice that there’s nothing digital in sight. Libby says that although they may eventually include some computers, the emphasis is on hands-on, physical creation. That’s where typewriters come in, although they weren’t part of the original plan; one donated machine was a hit with the kids, and other donations followed.

Here’s another intriguing, story-generating display:

Kids can hang out in the tubs and compose magnetic poetry on their sides:

Inside the Word Blender booth, words fly through the air and kids grab some to use in a story:

The current theme is Halloween.

In this corner we have several typewriters.

The Underwood Noiseless Portable came home with me today for service. It needed new front and rear feed rollers, as they were flat and wouldn’t feed paper; some shrink tubing and latex tubing, respectively, did the trick. I’ve also installed a new ribbon from Spitzfaden’s, on an interesting spool meant for Underwood electrics that also fits on noiseless portables.
The pink Smith-Corona Eighty-Eight is a gift from me. It was last seen on this blog in my reports on the 2011 Cincinnati Type-In (here and here). Since then, it’s been languishing in my basement. It needed some work on the tabulator, and then it was ready to go to a place where it will be appreciated.
The Royal FP was the WordPlay “workhorse” before I arrived, but it needed a new ribbon. Friday morning I found a new old stock green ribbon on a metal Royal spool at Spitzfaden’s, so the FP is ready to write in green.
This girl is transcribing her handwritten Halloween story on the Smith-Corona:

When it was time for her to do her homework, her brother took over the typing, expertly copying the rest of his sister’s story onto a Smith-Corona Classic 12, another donation from me. I found this typewriter at the St. Vincent DePaul thrift store a few days ago — the first manual I’ve seen there for several months. Let’s hope it’s a sign of more to come. On the table are some issues of ETCetera that I donated in case they might be of interest. One of Libby’s sons is mechanically inclined and wants a typewriter of his own; maybe he will enjoy these magazines.

Another two typewriters at WordPlay are the Remie Scout, which you’ve already seen — it needed some good cleaning and a tightening of the mainspring — and this ’30s Underwood portable, which is in good shape and just needed its ribbon straightened out a bit.

Then there’s this old timer …

“…+ deserves a rest.” True — but who knows, if I get really ambitious someday, I might tackle this restoration project.

The most important thing about WordPlay is that it’s providing a safe, warm, interesting, positive place for kids. But spreading the love of typewriters is a nice side effect. Apparently the typewriters are favorites here and are becoming essential to the place. (If there is a similar center near you, find out whether they have typewriters yet. There are official 826 chapters in Boston, Chicago, DC, LA, Ann Arbor, Brooklyn, Seattle, and San Francisco.) Libby said that one girl who comes regularly has a typewriter of her own that she brings along. The mother of another girl contacted me through this blog when the blog was mentioned on WordPlay’s Facebook page; she was looking for a typewriter for her daughter, and I was able to point her to a craigslist ad. I have a feeling that I’ll be doing lots of matchmaking between kids and typewriters.

What could be better?


  1. Ton S.

    WordPlay is simply amazing, such a creative and meaningful program for kids. It's just awesome that typewriters have a key role to play. And the learning space just blows me away, beautiful! Many thanks for sharing this with us, Richard. What a dose of inspiration.

    By the way, sent you an email.

  2. Will Davis

    What an incredible place! My faith in humankind and vision for the future of our children just both brightened up a bit. Thanks for letting us in on this ray of sunshine. Next time I come down there, I'll have to get you to take me to WordPlay.

  3. Vikram

    Fantastic project! I wish them all the best, and loved the pictures of the kids typing away. :)

  4. Scott K

    That's brilliant…. Absolutely brilliant!

  5. notagain

    Hmm… It looks a lot like a more elaborate version of the library's StoryLab. Very cool place!

  6. Anonymous

    Totally awesome! :D

  7. Cameron

    Richard, this is greatest news I've heard in a while.

    Talk about serendipitous! It's always wonderful when things flow in this way — you were MEANT to stop by and offer your valuable services and typewriter contributions.

    Nothing short of excellent!

  8. WordPlay Cincy

    Richard! We truly can't thank you enough, you stumbled across WordPlay at just the right time. What a tremendous boost to our kids to have our collection increase significantly due to your thoughtful contributions. Don't know if this link will be active if I drop it in here, but here is the latest post from WordPlay http://wordplaycincy.org/latest-news/2012/10/the-typewriter-guy/
    Can't wait to see what next week brings from our Typing Pool. All the best, Libby and the WordPlay kids.

  9. Ted

    Nothing could be better. It's incredible that Wordplay even exists, and more incredible that you found them just as they were needing the services of a crack Typewriter guy! :D

  10. Bill M

    Richard this is a wonderful way for you to be involved in the lives of many young people. Wordplay is one fantastic place. It looks much more interesting than any science museum I have visited. It looks like a great place to foster a child's imagination and hopefully foster their desire to learn and do good in school. It is truly wonderful that you are getting involved.

  11. Anonymous

    Richard P.
    After all your comments at my site (Typeoh) I thought I would return the favor. Great pictures and its wonderful to see children using typewriters (loved the pink one). Glad you support this… and I believe it will be a great benefit for this kids as well years down the road. I learned something good today. Thank you!

    GEE (Gerald T.)

  12. GEE

    I forgot to add that also donate typewriter's is a terrific way to keep them in use and not just on display or sitting geting dusty.

    Two thumbs up for what you do.

    GEE (Gerald T.)

  13. rn

    Fantastic, Richard. Thanks for writing this and for being involved in Wordplay. You're an inspiration. I've been promising for months to provide (and service) the typewriters in the childrens' room at Poets House here in NYC. It's time to make good on that commitment. You've shown me the way.

    As for that lazy ol' Underwood reclining on the armoire — for what it's worth, I recently took apart and put back together a crusty rusty 1918 Model 5 and the result was really rewarding. Though it still looks reasonably abused, it's a dream to write with (not at all as harsh as I anticipated) and the the alignment is amazing for a machine in its dotage.

  14. L Casey

    This is absolutely heartwarming. You really are saving the world…one typewriter at a time!

    Really, Richard, this is fantastic beyond words. An inspiration to all of us here on the Typosphere…and beyond!

  15. Tom Furrier

    Thank you Richard for this wonderful story and for your good deeds. I hope Wordplay grows and helps many children.

  16. Fer Andrade

    A very good place, they do a really interesting job! Typewriters found another home where they are appreciated as well!

  17. Duffy Moon

    That's really brilliant, Richard. Thanks for sharing this!

  18. Anonymous

    Wow, that is a very cool place (and they're fortunate to have someone as knowledgeable as yourself to help them with their machines). It would be great to see more of these things pop up around the country.

  19. Carriage of No Return

    Such an uplifting story on so many levels – and so inspiring.

    I work closely with a primary school (ages 4 – 11), and we are always trying to find ways to encourage the children to read and write, especially the boys. I will have a word with the headteacher later and offer to run a typing group with some of the children… if it works I will donate a machine or two. I imagine that the mechanical aspects of the machines will get the interest of the boys straightaway.

    Thank you for sharing this story!


  20. Richard P

    An excellent idea, John. Yesterday at WordPlay, one boy was busy trying to figure out a problem with his personal electric typewriter that he'd brought, and he seemed to be enjoying the investigation thoroughly.

  21. Carriage of No Return

    Hello Richard – I went over to school yesterday, and the result is that I start in two weeks running a 'typewriter club' every Wednesday morning! The revolution might get a few more converts yet…


  22. Carriage of No Return

    Also – it was good to hear that a boy had brought along his own typewriter to WordPlay to sort it out – both that he knows where to find help from like-minds, and also that he actually owns his own typewriter!

    Doesn't this make the world a better place? Just a few people sharing their passions with other people and helping them to get into something good and wholesome.

  23. Mark

    COOLEST place ever! I want to visit! Looks like tons of fun. I am passionate about creative writing and would love to hang out wth these kids and work on stories. I could do something like this as a job, seriously. You are a lucky man to have found this and become a part of it.


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