Josh Shaffer

Add your words to Raleigh’s novel – on a manual typewriter – Shaffer

This Smith Corona manual typewriter sits outside Quail Ridge Books at North Hills in Raleigh, waiting for passers-by to add their thoughts. The spool of paper stretches 100 feet long, and the sentences are copied online.
This Smith Corona manual typewriter sits outside Quail Ridge Books at North Hills in Raleigh, waiting for passers-by to add their thoughts. The spool of paper stretches 100 feet long, and the sentences are copied online. jshaffer@newsobserver.com

Inside a wooden shack, a light-blue Smith Corona typewriter waits for Raleigh’s wisdom, angst and blather – gathering the city’s character one clacking keystroke at a time.

The outhouse-shaped writer’s sanctum stands just outside Quail Ridge Books at North Hills, inviting any passer-by to peck out a random sentence on a contraption that requires no electricity. All day long, Raleigh’s correspondents take turns on a stool made of logs as their thoughts scroll down a 100-foot roll of paper.

“I just typed, ‘North Hills is a dream,’ ” said Sara Nagel, a first-time visitor from Denver. “But I hit the wrong key, and there’s a W in there now.”

The Typewriter Project, described as a city-wide linguistic exchange, started in 2014 with booths scattered around New York, slowly accumulating strangers’ thoughts. The idea is roughly inspired by the old game of Exquisite Corpse, in which players contribute either words or parts of a drawing to make a creative collage. Thus far, the shack outside Quail Ridge represents the project’s first migration out of Gotham.

“It’s an effort to just capture the subconscious, the ethos of a city,” said Samantha Flynn, a book seller there. “What are we all thinking about? Any subject at all. The more we get, the more we reveal the identity of the city.”

To participate, step inside the shack, straddle the stool and square off against the Smith Corona Sterling. For the uninitiated, namely anyone under the age of 45, a manual typewriter does not require flipping an on switch. Grab the big silver handle and slide that big black paper towel roll – it’s called a platen – to the left until you hear a ding.

You’ll notice that hitting the keys feels like shifting gears in a Model T Ford, and that the machine makes a noise like a shoe in the dryer while you’re crafting a sentence. Don’t worry. It’s not broken. Old things make funny sounds.

Jenny Storey, a digital marketer who lives nearby, took her first-ever spin on a typing machine while Nagel, her friend, cautioned from the passenger seat, “You forgot to shift!”

As they typed, the paper spooled down into a box below the typewriter, but I could still read a few pages of Raleigh’s offerings, including this shout-out to William Carlos Williams:

“So much still depends on the red wheelbarrow.”

Then came this bit of observational humor:

“Oh no, it’s starting to rain and they want to shut this thing down. I didn’t know fine writing was dependent on weather.”

So I tapped out my own offering, complete with spacebar-related typos:

“When I was 14, my grandma Irene offered me $100 if I learned to type. So I did. Thanks, Grandma.”

All told, it ought to make for a decent read, and if nothing else, acquaint younger hands with prehistoric tools.

Josh Shaffer: 919-829-4818, @joshshaffer08

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The Typewriter Project is open from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily in April at Quail Ridge Books on Lassiter Mill Road at North Hills. The writing is recorded electronically on the bookstore’s website, www.quailridgebooks.com.

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