Culture  Death by a thousand words

Whilst many may think of  live readings as dry affairs, attended solely by stuffy literati, the Literary Death Match series spins this conception on its head, focusing on the essence of fun central to literature. The upcoming Literary Death Match promises a hilarious and enthralling evening that will leave you enamoured with the written (and spoken) word.

The Literary Death Match was first created in 2006 by Todd Zuniga in New York City, and now runs in 43 cities throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. The Literary Death Match consists of four readers, three judges, two rounds, and one finale. The first two rounds feature the readings themselves, each no more than seven minutes. The winners of each round are then pitted against each other in a final round, often a ludicrous finale involving a competition such as a spelling bee or a game of “pin the mustache on Ernest Hemingway.” Readers are then to be judged on literary merit, performance, and “intangibles.”

In an interview with The Daily, Zuniga explained that organizers aim to select no more than one poet for each match, as they want to steer the Literary Death Match series away from traditional poetry slams. Readers can range from journalists and fiction writers to graphic novelists. The selection process focuses on exciting and representative members of the city’s community. One of Zuniga’s “favourite cities to visit,” Montreal’s cultural diversity offers great pickings for such a competition.

Readers this year include Taylor Tower (featured on CBC program WireTap), Banka Petrovic (a poet featured in several journals, including The New Quarterly and Arc), Jonah Campbell (author of Food and Trembling: An Entertainment) and Gabe Foreman (author of A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Kinds of People.) Judges include Natalia Yanchak, a singer/keyboardist for The Dears, Joel Yanofsky, an author/book reviewer and George Hamilton Braithwaite, a comedian. Each judge is assigned to a category relevant to their career. Yanchak evaluates performance, Yanofsky, literary merit and Braithwaite, the intangibles.

Zuniga points out that authors have traditionally not always been the best readers of their own work. Matches can feature stellar performances as well as clumsy ones, as readers are selected as participants primarily on the quality of their written work. Witnessing talent on the page come to life on stage is a crucial and fascinating part of the Literary Death Match. The quality of the reading can lend well-known written work a surprising new twist. Zuniga warns that “weird and strange things will take place” and people will find themselves lured into avid listening along the way.

Although the competitive side of the Literary Death Match is light-hearted, Zuniga points out that audience members often find themselves rooting for a certain reader. The time limit of seven minutes serves mainly to present the readings as a taste of the writer’s work. The relative brevity of the readings, as well as the emphasis on the comedic, make the Literary Death Match series appealing to people outside the immediate literary community. Zuniga stresses that literature “can be serious and funny at once,” offering a way to engage people with literature through fun and spectacle. The Literary Death Match attracts more than just the most devoted readers and writers, serving to bring a greater cultural variety to the literary world.

The Montreal edition of the Literary Death Match will take place Tuesday, September 18 at La Sala Rossa. Doors at 7, show at 8:15, followed by drinks. Tickets are $7 preorder and $10 at the door.