1. From left: Lianne Conroy, psychotherapist; Jeanine Chapin, Mom; Squa Leader, writer; and John Chapin, Software Dude. They were rooting for Mr. Sumell. Yes! 2. Courtney Maum focusing on Pin The Moustache On Ernest Hemingway.
I’ve seen many a good reading at Greenwich Village’s Le Poisson Rouge. From fiction heavyweights Edmund White and Michael Cunningham to a personal anecdote by Nerd Jeopardy founder Ryan Chapman, but never did I see a bloodier battle than Thursday’s 43rd episode of Literary Deathmatch. Host and founder Adrian Todd Zuniga hosted an epic battle of the genres in LPR’s big room, with four of New York’s best fiction and non-fiction writers to duke it out. For fiction, BOMB Magazine and Electric Literature sent Courtney Maum and Matt Sumell to defend our fine genre. They were pitted against non-fictioneers Tina Rosenberg (for The Atavist) and Jason Diamond (respresenting his own Vol. 1 Brooklyn). With Jon Ronson (The Men Who Stare at Goats), Touré (Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?) and Jamie Lee (Last Comic Standing) as judges, it was a miracle no one lost an eye.
A quick run-down for anyone unsure of how LDM works: Four writers compete in two rounds of duel, the winners of both rounds go head-to-head in a final, non-reading competition for eternal fame and glory. Based on Literary Merit, Performance, and Intangibles, three judges decide who moves onto to the final round. Zuniga, punctual as ever, initiated the ceremonies near 7:02 P.M. with a briefer introduction to LDM than mine: “Less Hunger Games, than Alfred Lord Tennyson walking into a fireplace.” Zuniga is also a T.V. star in Ljubljana, apparently.
1. Host and Founder Adrian Todd Zuniga talking about Ljubljana. 2. Matt Sumell: “That’s a stapler, bro. Vintage.”
Zuniga then turned to the judges for introductions. Jon Ronson, judging Literary Merit, read from a notebook of past LDM judges: “This type of sex wasn’t made for furniture.” Touré (Performance) imagined the ideal polygamist marriage to defeat Mitt Romney would be “Sarah Silverman, Joni Mitchell, and Dorothy Parker.” Comedian Jamie Lee (Intangibles) owes her success to fellow comedian Kevin Wilson.
Matt Sumell went first, who confessed that he just wanted to “make his dad proud,” and launched into a story about “birds and rape.” I was excited to see Sumell read, and not because he was waving the EL banner. Because of these lines: “I miss my mother like it’s anaerobic.” “Dudes’ dicks are in danger, Dad, and if you don’t believe me you can get the fuck out of my bedroom.” “Sparrows are the Toyota Camry of birds.” I love a story about adolescent bravado and questionable activity spiraling towards total emotional release, and Sumell does it damn well.
1. From left: Liz Hohenadel, publicist at Riverhead Books; Brian Scott, teacher in Park Slope; and Joel Ronson, who’s in the son of that dude Jon Ronson. Is there a relation? 2. Judges Jamie Lee, Toure, and Jon Ronson discussing the finer points of Matt Sumell’s hair.
Next was Jason Diamond, who read us a story about being reminded that once, you went to college. And that college wants you to come back. “I had to lie to Google,” Diamond read, “that I wanted to see all e-mails from my alumni association.” Seeing such an e-mail reminded Diamond of his twentysomething days, milling about in Boca Raton. “This was the end of the road, believing what Boyz II Men told me… Even the Rastafarian made jokes about how much pot I was smoking.” A far cry from now: “31, married, two cats.” Diamond won’t be going to his reunion, unless Boyz II Men are there.
1. The Vol. 1 Brooklyn table, from left: Jen Vafidis, Deputy Editor; Emily Goldsher-Diamond, digital strategist and wife to Jason Diamond, Founder; Tobias Carroll, Managing Editor at Vol. 1 Brooklyn. 2. This time it’s about Jason Diamond’s loafers.
Now, the judging. On Matt Sumell:
Jon Ronson empathized with animal sex.
Toure liked Matt’s “swagger hair” and “very Dragnet” reading style, and complimented his likeness to Chris Isaak. “Points deducted for Bud Light.”
Jamie Lee noted that her Natural History Museum trip would now be plagued. “I’m just gonna look at all the taxidermied birds and think ‘Oh, they’re gonna get their fuck on.’”
Jon Ronson deeply empathized with Diamond. Ronson had been thrown into a river in Cardiff when he was sixteen, and e-mailed that bully much later to tell him “I make more money than you.” (That full story appears on This American Life here).
For Toure, Diamond’s jeans were better than Matt’s. Points deducted for Diamond’s loafers.
Jamie Lee also empathized with Diamond. “A bully put toothpaste in my hair on a class trip. Molly L—-. Real name. Socio/psychopath.”
And the winner of Round One? Jason Diamond. Kudos to Matt Sumell, who will be forever known as Chris Isaak to me now.
1. Courtney Maum: “Nasdaq! Nasdaq! Nasdaq!” 2. Tina Rosenberg, who just finished shouting something in German.
After a break, Round Two kicked off: Maum vs. Rosenberg. Maum’s moving story, “Dispatches From the Fetal Reduction,” was told from the perspective of a “reduced” fetus (conceived with two others): “The tree house would have proved instrumental during the year I took off to support Fertinex through his crippling addiction to a particularly low-grade form of Opium known on the street as ‘Block.’”The narrator’s other sibling, Clomig, doesn’t have a brighter future. “Being absorbed back into your own mother’s body gives you a real sense of perspective: I’ve seen great things and Clomig’s future isn’t one of them.”
Next, Tina Rosenberg read a story about one Dennis Wheatley, an English spy novelist whose fictional spies became a real asset to the British war effort. “Wheatley went home with this assignment to sit down and think like a Nazi.” After 15,000 words, 200 cigarettes and three magnums of champagne Wheatley had finished one of the most important plans of the British Strategic Deception Team: the D-Day invasion. The BSDT had helped divert German attention away from the Normandy beach to another French locale, and was able to break into Nazi-occupied France. Amidst Rosenberg’s excellent German accent and singing voice, Wheatley’s story came from left field but dazzled nonetheless.
1. Round Two competitors Courtney Maum and Jason Diamond getting judged.
All three judges were a little confused about the perspective of Maum’s story, but Jon Ronson thought it was “wonderfully haunting” regardless.
Toure: A “delightfully weird” story. Courtney Maum also scored performance points for being “beautiful.”
Jamie Lee: “First and foremost, I want your bangs.”
This was right up Ronson’s alley, and he expressed his enthusiasm by telling Rosenberg about another unorthodox military intelligence program. “Project Jedi.”
Toure praised Rosenberg’s vocal abilities in singing and German.
Jamie Lee: “Wish you were my teacher, I would’ve listened to you … plus you have great boobs.”
1. One of Jason’s audience teammates feeling around for Ernie’s face. 2. Literary Deathmatch #43 champion Jason Diamond. I’d like to note none of the judges mentioned his eyeglasses. They’re wonderful.
Round Two went to Courtney Maum, and the Final Round of competition kicked in: “Pin the Moustache on Ernest Hemingway.” Each writer was paired with two brave audience members to pin the moustaches of George Orwell, Salman Rushdie, William Faulkner, and others on a giant poster of Ernie while blindfolded. Diamond, hopped up on cold meds, landed Conan Doyle’s moustache firmly on the upper lip. How this happened, the LDM gods will only know. Diamond was crowned champion.
Non-fiction may have won this round of Literary Deathmatch, but the fight moves forward, and soon to TV. Todd Zuniga is on a mission to put “literature on TV, motherfuckers” with a pilot of his ever-popular reading series. He has a Kickstarter here. Insert-battle-cry-for-fiction-here.
—Kai Twanmoh [photos] is a sometimes contributor to Electric Dish. You can find here here.