The editors of Opium Magazine created Literary Death Match as an antidote to the stultifying atmosphere that afflicts many literary readings. Opium's Todd Zuniga loved going to readings, but was bored stiff. "The worst reader always goes way long," he says, "and someone always reads in that abhorrent 'poet voice.'" In Literary Death Match, four readers compete with snappy stories, which are wryly critiqued by a panel of judges for the amusement of an audience that tipples, chuckles, and occasionally heckles. The next edition takes place on Wednesday, March 12, 2008, and features contestants from independent presses Manic D, Soft Skull, Heyday and MacAdam/Cage.
Each event lasts three rounds -- two one-on-one initial bouts and then a run-off pitting the winners of the first two contests against each other. Readers generally keep it lively with funny fare and the judges follow suit. The breaks between bouts further encourage a jovial (read: tipsy) atmosphere. It's not just booze and friendly competition that distinguishes LDM. While many literary readings thrive on overly-earnest questions and polite clapping, each edition of Literary Death Match really strives to entertain. As Zuniga put it, it's meant to be an event for "the masses, not just people trying to get published."
The February 2008 showdown lived up to much of its premise. Kurt Bodden (of Talk Show Live) MC'd the proceedings. Alana Connor of the Stanford Social Innovation Review evaluated "intangibles," literary agent Ted Weinstein reigned over "content," Double Fine's Scott Campbell rounded up the judging panel by offering deadpan tips on "performance."
The first round was a bit of a surprise, as Fourteen Hills's Marianna Cherry and Parthenon West Review's Barbara Jane Reyes both read rather serious pieces -- a short story about a kidnapping by FARC guerillas, and poetry on cultural/sexual imperialism and Filipina identity, respectively. Both pieces were gripping in their own right, but they appeared to wrong-foot the judges' expectations of lighter fare. Nevertheless, they gamely weighed in. Alana Connor noted that Reyes' poetry "was some heavy ass shit" and that it "had more blowjobs in it than [her] 16th birthday party." Scott Campbell signaled his appreciation for Cherry's sartorial choices: "You wore leather gloves.. and then took them off. I liked that." Ultimately, the judges handed Reyes the ticket to the final round.
The second bout was more standard Death Match fare. Tony Dushane of Cherry Bleeds read a truly alarming and hilarious "pre-natal memoir" about his own conception from the point of view of one of his father's sperm. Much giggling and squirming ensued. Suzanne Kleid of Other Magazine chose to read a hilarious story about a non-starting relationship, but Dushane ended up with the win. The final showdown was decided by improvised six-word memoirs. Dushane opened with "Masturbation saved my sex life forever." "Some people say I eat dog," countered Reyes. The applause was a touch louder for Dushane, so he was declared the winner and presented with a lovely (Burger King?) crown.
Literary Death Match takes place roughly once a month. The next match, hosted by Kurt Bodden features Jon Longhi (Manic D Press), Daphne Gottlieb (Soft Skull Press), Andrew Lam (Heyday) and the best MacAdam/Cage has to offer, is Wednesday, March 12, 2008, 7pm at the Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell Street in San Francisco.