Literature to the Death
I’ve done some pretty nutty things in my life, and this one ranks way up there. (Although, nothing, and I mean nothing (!) so far beats the time I had to do a lap-dance on my own daughter at one of her birthday parties in New York!) But when namesake Adrian Todd Zuniga, creator and host of the “Literary Death Match,” asked me to be one of the three judges in its ‘epic’ return to the City of Light (partnering with the Paris American Academy Writing Workshop), how could I say no?
But, what the he– is Literary Death Match, anyway? The truth is I wasn’t sure to what I had said yes until the event actually took place.
As he describes it, “Literary Death Match marries the literary and performative aspects of Def Poetry Jam, rapier-witted quips of American Idol’s judging (without any meanness), and the ridiculousness and hilarity of Double Dare.” I’d say that is pretty accurate, but it’s sure that the audience didn’t have a clue what they were about to experience, as did neither the participating authors, nor the judges.
At the Studio des Ursulines, a small, but elegant theater in the 5th, unsuspecting victims filed in to discover this “competitive, humor-centric reading series featuring a thrilling mix of four famous and emerging authors.” The audience was a mix, too — of our readers, friends of the four authors and anyone wanting a good laugh along with a literary learning experience.
The four authors were pitted against one another, first two with one winner among them, and then the next two, also ending with one winner. Each read from their most electric writing for no more than seven minutes and after each reading, the ‘all-star’ judges — sitting on cushions at the edge of the stage — commented on their performances…for 1) literary merit, 2) performance (this was my job) and 3) intangibles (whatever that means!).
The two authors first up were Adam Biles, writer, translator, and author of The Deep and Grey Cats (finalist for the Paris Literary Prize) and Kseniya Melnik, author of the Dylan Thomas Prize and Frank O’Connor Award-nominated Snow in May. In the second round was Kevin Dolgin, travel writer for McSweeney’s and author of The Third Tower Up the Road and Linda Hervieux, author of Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes, at Home and at War.
The judges were Dinah Lenney, editor, teacher, sometime actor, and author of The Object Parade for “Literary Merit,” Luke Thompson, stand-up comedian and teacher behind the award-winning podcast Luke’s English Podcast for “Intangibles” and me, for “Performance.” Our ‘job’ was to decide the winner of each round after having made (hopefully) funny comments without ‘being mean’ as Zuniga insisted.
Dinah, with her very outgoing personality, could have been the host, if Adrian had let her. She joked that she would have liked to be not only the host, but the readers and star in her own play, if she had her ‘druthers.’ Luke, who’s a regular stand-up comic at The Great British/American Comedy Nights at the SoGymnase Comedy Club was particularly funny (as he should be — we were counting on that!).
Although all the readings were great in their own way, a choice had to be made! Adam Biles won round one for his action-packed and graphic rendition. Linda Hervieux won round two for her powerful soon-to-be published book about the untold Black heroes of World War II. I can attest to the fact that it was a tough decision for the judges as each author’s work had much merit, but the deed must be done.
With two finalists, they paired up and faced-off in the Literary Death Match finale, each accompanied by two other partners (volunteers from the audience) who helped in answering a list of absurd literary-based questions. Whichever team answered fastest and correctly won the points and ultimately won the Match…although at this stage, the winner had little to do with their writing talents!
Adam Biles won the final prize and joked that he had waited “all of his life to have such glory!”
“Off-the-wall” is exactly how I’d describe the event. Zuniga calls it a kind of ‘circus’ and off stage he confessed that when he organized the event with French authors in French with an obviously French audience, that it didn’t go over so well. The French sense of humor simply didn’t think this was so funny, but fortunately the Anglophone audience definitely did!
Zuniga hopes to perform the Literary Death Match all over the world, and no doubt he will reach his goal. We all agreed, it was a “brilliant event rife with lit, laughs, levity and, assuredly, falling in love.” When it hits town next year (if it does) then you won’t want to miss it. You will also think it’s one of the nuttiest things you’ve ever done or seen. (And let’s hope you never have to perform a lap-dance on your own child!)
A la prochaine,
The Adrian Leeds Group
P.S. Just a reminder that Parler Paris Après Midi will NOT be meeting the month of August. Get all the details for la rentree at Parler Paris Après Midi!
P.P.S. I will be on vacation August 8 through 15 and that week, there will be no Parler Paris or Parler Nice Nouvellettres® nor French Property Insider!”