HAPPY DEATHDAY! Literary Death Match’s 6th Birthday at The Back Room

1. Aryn Kyle, reppin’ for Housing Works and adolescence. 2. Dean Haspiel reading comix from an iPad, while Todd Zuniga does something weird with his iPhone. 3. Taylor Negron, talking about sluts and cunts.

The Back Room is a bar on the Lower East Side that’s underground and far off the street. It’s dark and plush and serves its drinks out of coffee mugs and teacups. It was also home to the very first Literary Death Match, which happened exactly six years ago. Last night, the international series returned to the scene of the crime, and featured Darin Strauss, Aryn Kyle, Dean Haspiel, and Kim Dana Kupperman as contestants, with Jon Scieszka, Taylor Negron, and Sara Benincasa as judges.

One thing that happens when a series grows (there’s been 201 episodes in 39 different cities around the world) and builds a reputation over six years: People notice. And when people notice, then people come out to such events. And when people come out to such events, shit gets crowded. Yeah, last night was crowded. Like, sitting on the ground crowded, standing awkwardly in the corner crowded. Like, my photographer was trying to take some photos, and this inspired a cranky couple behind him to say, “Can you move?!” To which he said, “Uh, not really.” Because he couldn’t — there wasn’t anywhere for him to go. But their response? “WELL, TRY.” At least I get to blog about such things later, like the evolved person I am.

1. There’s boobs on the wall at The Back Room. ( . ) ( . ) 2. Some people holding up a sheet.

Aryn Kyle was first, reading “Carpenter’s Wife,” which was about PE teachers, archery, and asshole adolescent boys who threatened rape. It was pretty perfect for LDM, considering it had lines like “Anne of Green Gables was a cunt,” and the archery theme coincided nicely with the Nerf darts that host Todd Zuniga shot at Kyle after she went over the seven-minute time limit.

Dean Haspiel was pitted against Kyle, and he read “Billy Dogma: The Last Romantic Antihero,” which is a comic. In order to do this, he used an iPad, which projected the comic onto a sheet that was held up by two audience members, creating a nice juxtaposition of high tech and MacGyver tech. The comic managed to be both sexy and apocalyptic, which is obviously a good combination.

1. Jon Scieszka (rhymes with Fresca) says that Anne of Green Gables is a cunt. 2. Todd Zuniga and his Nerf darts, by romantic mood lighting.

The judging went like this: Jon Scieszka (literary merit) said Kyle’s story reminded him of “Judy Blume with a team of Russian Gymnasts, but not in a creepy way,” Taylor Negron (performance) called her a “slut who can write,” and Sara Benincasa (intangibles) thought that her performance was salty and spicy and included a bit of something like turmeric.

Scieszka thought Haspiel’s story was like “Harold and the Purple Crayon re-imagined by Beckett. Negron had this to say: “You’re like Ricky Gervais without the middle class rage. Fuck England.” Benincasa said his story was like cinnamon, cloves, and oregano ground up and then shoved up your butthole, and then lovingly and slowly pooped out.

I think you can tell who won, but just in case you’re unclear: Being described like an herb enema is a good thing at LDM.

1. Sara Benincasa talking about spices, while Darin Strauss looks on dubiously. 2. Darin Strauss reppin’ for the New York Public Library. 3. Kim Dana Kupperman reppin’ for Welcome Table Press. Oh, and horny Catholic teens.

Darin Strauss went first for round II. He was going to read from his memoir, Half a Life, but then he remembered that it’s about someone dying and “that’s not fun.” So instead he read from a first draft of a “shitty story” called “Puberty,” which featured a protagonist with an alleged “gay vibe” and “elfin hands.”

Kim Dana Kupperman was the final reader of the evening, and she went with an unpublished “suite” called “Recipes for Disaster,” which was her reaction to the eight years of Dubya rule that our country suffered through. Despite featuring recipes that no one should ever eat, like Economic Crisis Tort(e) and Baked Alaska, her piece also offered sage advice (e.g. “When handling Dick Cheney use plastic gloves and do not touch or rub your eyes.”).

1. Crowds and teacups. 2. UH OH! Hijinks are about to ensue.

For Darin Strauss, Scieszka decided he was “too knowledgeable about Star Trek.” Negron said he appeared like a boy who keeps angel food cake in his car, that he had a warmth like yesterday’s carrot juice, and that he was Anne of Green Gables. Benincasa said she found him sexually attractive.

As for Kupperman, Scieszka found it very literary that she had three names. Negron said something about Monica Lewinsky Creme Fraiche, which reminded me more of vaginal discharge than semen. Benincasa said she found her sexually attractive.

In the end, Kupperman was crowned the winner of round II, thanks to the gang of horny Catholic teens she had brought from Fordham (which is where she teaches). Always a good reason to be a winner.

1. Pictionary! Answer: Midnight’s Children, drawn by Aaron Garretson, who was NYC’s LDM champion for episode #7.

To find the champion, audience members reached into host Zuniga’s pocket and felt around, withdrawing a piece of paper with the title of one of Time’s 100 Best Novels. Then they drew the book, Pictionary style, on a piece of paper held up by LDM’s NYC producer, Erin Valerio. The audience was divided up into teams representing both of the finalists, and their correct guesses decided who won. The winning book? The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which was first referred to as “The wardrobe and the witch? The witch, the wardrobe, and the what?” Finally, Haspiel’s team got it right, and he was crowned literary champion of the evening.

Literary Death Match: The only place in town where you can force two people to hold up a bed sheet for seven minutes and have it result in you being called a winner. God bless.


Text by Julia Jackson, who is a fiction writer and the editor of Electric Dish. Find her on the internet here.

Photos by David Rogers-Berry, who plays percussion for O’Death and the Hungry March Band. See the latter at The Delancey tomorrow night.

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