100th Literary Death Match quakes Litquake

1. LDM Hostess Alia Volz (looking fabulous). 2. Todd Zuniga (LDM Founder) is the one with the book.

Literary Death Match celebrated its 100th show last night with a special Litquake installment at San Francisco’s Elbo Room. If you’re unfamiliar with LDM, it’s basically an all-out assault on all that is good and pure about Literature — i.e., it’s loud, often dirty, catholic sans the capital C (and the hands-on healing) and always a whole lotta fun.

The idea of a literary reading as a rock ’n’ roll freak show is the brainchild of Opium Magazine editor Todd Zuniga, who splits his time these days between Paris and SF and New York and Hollywood, tirelessly lobbying Establishment Media to bring the LDM circus to a plasma screen near you. There’s no deal yet, but there will be soon, we predict, if for no other reason than lit-leaning TV viewers cannot possibly live on Jersey Shore alone.

1. Gladiator #1 2. Gladiator #2.

The evening’s mayhem kicked off with an intro by Bay Area co-host Alia Volz, who warned the packed audience members that they were about to witness a “combat of wit, punctuation and ideas.” The last writer standing would be haloed with a crown of genuine real faux gold, while the losers’ fingers would be chopped off, the typing of their future manuscripts consigned to the vagaries of voice-recognition software.

Gladiator #1: Kari Kiernan — a regular contributor to the city’s renowned Porchlight storytelling series. True to form, she told a funny, realistic story. Like a lot of writers who graduated from high school many years ago, she reflected on her high school experiences. Back then, she was one of the straight girls, not into drugs, not into sex. Her advice now from the vantage of adulthood? Do drugs (“Adults totally do drugs”) and get comfortable with sports if you want to get laid (“P.E. and sex are intrinsically linked”).

Gladiator #2: David Corbett — acclaimed author, most recently of “Do They Know I’m Running?” Corbett told a story he wrote recently at San Quentin as part of a very serious writers-in-the-prisons project. He said he knew the piece he was challenged to write on-site alongside the prisoners “had to be real. It had to strike hard and deep.” The topic: “Damn! Back at square one again.” So he recounted the last day he saw his wife alive in the cancer ward at Stanford Hospital. His piece — “Who the Fuck Do I Have to Kill to Get My Wife Out of Pain?” — was an intense, heart-wrenching report on the awful “guilt of decision” that every caretaker must work through.

1. Jane Smiley (wearing an excellent hat) & friend. 2. Author Lauren Becker.

LDM rules and regs dictate that after each pair of readings a panel of judges must weigh in on a specific set of criteria. At this special show, Jane Smiley evaluated “literary merit,” Mark Fiore talked about (or rather, drew) his take on “performance quality,” and W. Kamau Bell dished on “intangibles.” This is often the strangest part of the evening, and last night was no exception.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Smiley very much enjoyed Kiernan’s “social realist” perspective, which she nailed by saying, “We were laughing, but it’s not really funny.” However, she completely missed everything about Corbett’s piece, making an absurd comment about seeing his story on television in the ‘80s(???). If you’ve ever seen Smiley in person, you know she’s very thin and very tall. We’re convinced that last night she was also very high.

1. W. Kamau Bell & Mark Fiore & Jane Smiley before the throwdown. 2. Authors Tony Dushane & Pam Benjamin.

Award-winning comedian Bell, one of the few people of color in the audience, didn’t hold back from truth-telling. He said Kiernan’s story made him uncomfortable with its name-dropping of white enclaves Oregon and Marin. Plus, he was fairly certain that her reference to “Oreo [was] a racial slur.” He described Corbett as “Henry Rollins’ dad.”

While Corbett’s piece was the stronger of the two, Kiernan won the round. Her story was more entertaining, to say the least, and the Death Match is all about bringing the fun while butchering, grilling, and noshing sacred cows.

At intermission, it was time to stalk the writing celebs in the house. There was Tony DuShane, a former LDM champion whose “Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk” is a must-read for anyone who’s ever been touched by an angel. When asked about what he does with his prestigious LDM medal, he confessed, “It’s usually in a box in my closet. There’s only enough room on the mantel for my roller disco trophies.” We caught him with his arm around poet and supreme brownie baker Pam Benjamin, whose debut collection, “The Pigeon Chronicles or Bike Messenger Assassins,” was just released along with LDM co-host Mg Martin’s first book, “One for None,” on Ink Publishing, a hot new indie press founded by Mike Skott McCullough.

1. Chris Cole. and 2. Andrew O. Dugas with beverages.

Local writer Chris Cole was triple-fisting drinks, as poets tend to do, while Andrew O. Dugas followed suit, albeit with one beer at a time. It’s good to see that Dylan Thomas’ ghost still haunts such hallowed literary grounds.

We didn’t see Paul Corman-Roberts with an adult beverage, but we’re certain he imbibed. After all, his over-the-top prose piece, “Call Me Mister,” was just nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Someone buy that man three drinks!

Corium Magazine editor Lauren Becker was ecstatic over her latest issue, which features a number of fine stories and poems by so many gifted writers, including Stefanie Freele, Tara Laskowski, J.A. Tyler, the aforementioned ambidextrous Mr. Cole, and New Yorker-published Ben Loory. We were also happy to see poet Valerie Chavez and Book Slut critic Lorian Long.

1. Author Paul Corman-Roberts 2. Bookslut’s Lorian Long.

After an auction of some LDM art, the final two contestants hit the stage: slam poet Jason Bayani v. music critic Joel Selvin. It was an unfair matchup. Bayani’s a master street linguist, Selvin a wizened journalist, who by his own admission was only there to hawk a book he’d recently written. Bayani busted rhymes about “words that deserve to be murdered by apostrophe.” Selvin read some wannabe Kerouac prose about country musicians no one cared about. Needless to say, the young Filipino poet smoked the old man. Bell put it best in his assessment of Bayani’s intangibles: Listening to his tongue twisters, “liberal-educated Mission hipster white women were moist.”

1. Jason & Jane mid-match. 2. Writer Valerie Chavez.

Jane Smiley then took off her top (her jacket… geez…). Not to be outdone, Zuniga stripped off his natty threads, showing us all that Kiernan’s implication was wrong: writers are clearly the buffest of all American artists, Hollywood hotties included.

In keeping with LDM’s total disrespect for Literature, one hundred books were dumped on the stage for the final death round, in which Kiernan and Bayani had a limited time to make the biggest stack. Books were hurled into the audience and back on the stage in an attempt to disrupt these Towers of Blasphemy. At the end, the crowd bum-rushed the stage to filch their favorite titles from the debris.

Oh, as if it matters, Bayani took home the crown.

1. Todd Zuniga stripped. 2. Mg Martin in a nice outfit.

–Jesús Ángel García is the author of “badbadbad,” a transmedia novel (forthcoming in May 2011 on New Pulp Press). Short stories adapted from this book have been published in 3:AM Magazine, Monkeybicycle, Vol. 1 Brooklyn and sPARKLE & bLINK. A few of these pieces, a preview of the novel’s soundtrack and the first trailer for a five-part series of interconnected short films based on themes of the book are available at http://badbadbad.net.

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