Literary Death Match — BEA Edition

1. Judges gonna judge: Michael Showalter, Dave Hill, & Daniel Nayeri. Showalter judged Performance, Nayeri judged Literary Merit, and I have no idea what Hill judged but it must have been a strangely and/or vaguely-named category. 2. CROWD SHOTS! break time.

I was really excited to go to Literary Death Match last night. I’ve wanted to go since I began writing for Dish! but have always had class on Wednesdays. But now I’m done with school, and my Wednesday nights are free, free, freeeeee!

I was particularly excited to go to this Death Match because I was familiar with judges Dave Hill & Michael Showalter, I met reader Mira Ptacin at Franklin Park and she’s super rad, and I think that reader Jenny Slate’s Marcell the Shell video is pretty much the cutest thing ever.

1. Lauren, Tully, & Meredith, who thought that Browning should have won the first round. Clearly not too broken up about it, however. 2. Judges gonna smile: Hill & Nayeri (Showalter was too busy sitting at the bar, drinking, crying, and recording for Broadcastr to be in this shot).

1. LDM’s lovely hosts: Elissa Bassist (who informed me that her name has 5 S’s) & Todd Zuniga. 2. Fiction writers Eliza Hornig, Maria Villafranca, Christopher Griffith, Elissa Goldstein, & Harris Solomon.

Hosts Elissa Bassist and Todd Zuniga warmed us up by telling us that this was the 37th LDM, and that it might be the best ever… but that this kind of success might be tricky, as this DM had a lot to compete with. Bassist also let it be known that this LDM would be particularly “amazing” because all the readers were women, so no matter the outcome, feminism would win. But then she added that if you hated feminism, you were also in luck: the judges were all men, so a man would decide in the end which woman won.

Hillary Thayer Hamann was up first. She told us that she thought she’d be judging tonight, not competing, and she was totally unprepared and “really pissed at Todd.” So in retaliation, she was going to “spoil it for everybody” by reading the end of her book, which happened to involve a suicide note.


Barbara Browning read the dirtiest part of her book, which mused about the sexiness of sexy words. “Pussy is an unsatisfactory word,” the protagonist said. “Vagina” was “noble and weirdly distant,” but “Cunt” was a good word. I tend to agree with this fictional person, although I am also a fan of pu$$ie$ with dollar signs. Munch on that bling bling balla box.

The judges agreed that Thayer Hamman’s piece was beautiful and moving, but Hill thought it needed more profanity and Showalter wished it was funnier. Browning’s, on the other hand, was plenty funny — although the protagonist needed her mouth washed out, Hill said. After a long while of judge conferencing, it was decided that Thayer Hamman was the winner of round one.

1. Winner Jenny Slate, getting crowned. 2. John Clukey, Xsusha Flandro, & Catherine Weller, who were in town from a bookstore in Salt Lake City for BEA. They said that they got plenty of drinking done this week.

Mira Ptacin was first for round two, and in keeping with the “theme of vaginas,” she read a piece of nonfiction about the uterus and American Dream, otherwise known as supporting your girlfriend while she sells her eggs to pay off student loans. When Sarah Lawrence was mentioned, the crowd let out some scattered whoops. “NEW SCHOOL!” one person yelled back.

Jenny Slate was the last reader of the evening. She read a story that began with ghosts, continued with a dog’s butthole falling out, then went off into a land of secretary deers and murderous foxes, and ended with ghosts again. It was also all true. And hilarious. And also cute, which is hard to manage when talking about buttholes. Which I think the judges appreciated, because after a lengthy deliberation (very lengthy on Hill’s part) they picked Slate as their round two winner.

For the final round, Slate and Hamman were blindfolded and given cans of silly string. They then had to spray the silly string into Eric Schlosser and Jonathan Safran Foer’s “mouths” respectively (quotes because these were paper cut-outs of the authors), using audience-yelled-directives as their guide. It was a close contest that needed a recount: Slate won by a mere three grams.

So is it worth the $15 cover and the two drink minimum? Definitely. The night was a lot of fun, and well-worth waiting a whole school year for.

–Julia Jackson writes fiction and is a regular contributor to Electric Dish. She has an MFA from Brooklyn College.

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