The lights dim and the bartenders put my tab on hold. A dapper young man approaches the stage, and after a mic test or two, the house lights go up and the crowd begins to rustle. I don't quite know what to expect. What, exactly, is a Literary Death Match?
Anyone who has attended literary events in New York City and elsewhere knows they can run the gamut from the softly-lit, soul-searching poetry reading to the more boisterous—though often unfulfilling—open mic night. The Literary Death Match is some combination of the two. Founded four and a half years ago by Todd Zuniga (the aforementioned debonair gent, also the founding editor of the deliciously deviant literary journal Opium Magazine) and two friends over sushi, the conceit was to create an event that married literature and comedy. "We basically said, ‘What is the state of literary events? Why are we bored at them, and how can we do what we like and what we think is fun?'" Zuniga recalls. "We loved comedy and literary things. I've been to so many events where a writer has to follow a comedian, and it's just like, ‘Oh, that poor fucking writer,' you know?"
The Death Matches (commonly referred to as LDMs) started in New York. The original idea was to invite literary magazines and small publishers to nominate a reader to represent them; the basic concept, to have four writers read for seven minutes each, in competitions of two. Three guest judges evaluate the readings in categories of Literary Merit, Intangibles, and Performance (my guest judge for Literary Merit was New York Times book reviewer Liesl Schillinger, who, along with her co-judges, rivaled the contestants for performance). The victor from each competition then goes head-to-head in a chaotic and ridiculous finale. At the event I attended, the ever-cool Rick Moody faced off against Amanda Filipacchi—whose selection from her 2005 novel, Love Creeps, perfectly and hilariously utilized the word vagina—for the final showdown. Moody won, though not for any other reason than his "team" (i.e. his side of the packed room) was more quickly able to identify seemingly random songs that, according to Zuniga, contained some sort of literary reference. "We've done musical chairs, where we play music and we invite people from the crowd to join the writer's team—the last team sitting wins as opposed to the last writer sitting," Zuniga laughs. "We're doing a thing called poets vs. madmen, where we show pictures of serial killers and pictures of poets and the two finalists have to guess which is which. You'd be amazed, Shel Silverstein is the craziest-looking dude on earth."
(Read the rest at the link below.)