Moveable Type

Alayne White uses a collection of typewriters to encourage others to slow down and share their stories

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Alayne White’s collection of vintage typewriters looks like it simultaneously belongs in a museum and an art gallery: The colors are vibrant and varied, from baby blue to retro red. Some are portable, others are standard 35-pounders. And, though some keys may be worn almost blank, they all work.

It all started when Alayne spotted a dark black Royal in a Bristol consignment shop; she pressed a key, heard the familiar ding! and immediately thought of her grandmother. “It was a moment,” she recalls. She purchased the machine, took it home, and practiced writing letters to the typewriter – addressed “Dear Old Gal” – in what would become a daily ritual. A year-and-a-half and nearly 40 typewriters later, Alayne is determined to honor the history of the forgotten tool, and bring them back to life for 21st-century users.

Last September, Alayne started attending street fairs and other events with rescued typewriters in tow. She would host workshops for kids and passersby. “I want people to slow down and tell a story to the typewriter,” Alayne explains. “Words matter, take a pause, see where it takes you.”

The result was even greater than she imagined. Kids exclaimed, “I wish we had these instead of computers!” Grandparents sat beside grandkids and gave typing lessons. People began to bring their old, dusty typewriters dug out from attics and basements to donate. However, it was the stories brought with them that inspired Alayne. There was an older gentleman who claimed a typewriter “saved his life” when it meant he was recruited for office work instead of the Vietnam frontlines. A woman in her 80s stuck a letter inside the case of one Alayne had just purchased, detailing memories of her war hero great uncle and offering to buy it back.

“Each typewriter has a story,” Alayne insists. And it’s these stories that she’s determined to share, alongside the preserved machines. Alayne has begun to catalog the typewriters she’s collected; she plans on photographing each and transcribing the story that belongs to it, which she will then post on her blog TimeToLookUp.com for all to see and share.

Find Alayne’s next workshop at Mount Hope High School in Bristol on December 8 during Breakfast with Santa.