Last evening our very own Vice City played host to it’s 9th edition of Literary Death Match, an international reading-series-turned-game-show produced just in time for the Miami Book Fair International. Nestled in the well-appointed lobby of the Standard Hotel & Spa, the Literary Death Match episode interrupted a private authors’ party, playing expertly to its close-quartered audience.
Combining literature and performance in a comically competitive event, creator and host Adrian Todd Zuniga is a dizzying compère. The gathering of writers and literary fans, and the occasional wandering hotel guest trying to return to a room, pits four authors against each other in a competitive reading of original works, each under a seven minute time constraint. Despite the suggestively violent title of the series, the environment was warm and humorous. Rounds one and two featured award-winning journalist and author of A River Runs Again, Meera Subramanian, Colin Channer, author of the poetry collection Providential and best-selling novel Waiting in Vain, Sara Benincasa, author of DC Trip, and Bob Morris, best known for his works Crispin the Terrible and Assisted Loving. During an LDM match, the real challenge for these authors is performing a reading live. The work having already been written, they must woo the audience, emote, breathe life into words they’ve crafted with both care and wit. They perform with the best comedic timing and natural delivery they can muster and adjust to the many variables of a live audience (laughter, people moving around from room to room, a small dog run amuck through the lobby, etc.). All is taken into consideration by the judges after each performance.
The panel of judges featured an equally exciting crew of established authors: Richard Price, author of The Whites, Clockers, Lush Life and contributing screenwriter to the critically-acclaimed television series The Wire; Joy-Ann Reid, national MSNBC correspondent and author of Fracture: Barack Obama, the Clintons and the Racial Divide; Eric Bogosian, actor, monologist and playwright, and author of Operation Nemesis; and Chip Kidd, art director, book designer, and author of Only What’s Necessary. They provided commentary after each round, sometimes sage, sometimes profane, always constructive and humorous. They were honest and friendly, keeping the competitive environment light at all times.
At the risk of mythologizing an already larger-than-life personality, the whole collaboration couldn’t pull off such success without the theatrics of Mr. Zuniga. Tailored and thin, and both bombastic and intellectual, Mr. Zuniga presides over all with a fast-talking panache reminiscent of variety show hosts of an earlier era; the effect, while vaudevillian, is apropo, for how else does one make static written word attention-grabbing in a live performance format? Quoting Dorothy Parker and wielding his microphone like a cocktail, Zuniga keeps it fast-paced enough to stay interesting, and on track when writers push their time-limits.
Once two finalists had been chosen (Benincasa and Channer) the show wrapped with a ridiculous tiebreaker: a Literary Spelling Bee finale in which the two had to spell complicated author names for a shot at the title as winner (here Zuniga waived home made cardstock signs with the correct spellings over their heads for the audience). These moments of comedy and borderline absurdity tied the Literary Death Match together and contribute to its steady growth in popularity. To date, LDM has been held in 60 cities all over the world, from Los Angeles to Beijing, and anyone fortunate enough to catch one will appreciate the opportunity to hear this generation’s great writers perform their own works at the expense of a few laughs.
The next Literary Death Match will be held Dec. 4 in Bucharest, Romania.
Visit www.literarydeathmatch.com for more information on the series, podcasts, and authors featured in Miami’s episode.