Four readers, three judges, two rounds, one idiotic finale that will bring everybody to their feet and one grand champion...it's Def Poetry Jam meets American Idol meets Double Dare. Without all the meanness."
This is how Literary Death Match co-creator Todd Zuniga describes the European sensation that's finally coming to Tulsa.
From London to Paris, from Austin to Los Angeles, four well-known or emerging writers throw down in a Literary Death Match, which in the world of words means the writers read a five-to-seven minute work for three accomplished judges and a crowd of interested onlookers.
On Nov. 15 from 7-8:30pm at Congregation B'nai Emunah, these four writers will be engaging in some cheeky intellectual fisticuffs: Cary Aspinwall, funster and features writer for the Tulsa World; Mark Brown, gourmand and managing editor of This Land Press; Sloan Davis, a member of the intelligentsia and a staffer of Nimrod International Journal; and Jennie Lloyd, a super-secret poet and your humble news reporter for Urban Tulsa Weekly.
The event is presented by Booksmart Tulsa. About four years ago, Tulsa writer and Booksmart Tulsa founder Jeff Martin participated in a death match as a writer. "I lost unfortunately," Martin laughed, "but I had such a good time, I started asking Todd [Zuniga] how we could get this to Tulsa."
Martin was finally able to convince Zuniga that Tulsa had a large and dedicated literary community that would support the event. So now Tulsa is among the big cities around the world -- Denver, New York City, Glasgow and Dublin, to name a few -- to host a match since 2006.
Zuniga created Literary Death Match with Elizabeth Koch and Dennis DiClaudio, and now serves as the matches' emcee, a sort of traveling ringmaster for this literary circus. "I think people leave the house for two reasons -- To be surprised or to make out with someone. Literary Death Match brings both to the fore," Zuniga said.
Writers are paired up for a bout -- each reads their best writing in seven minutes or less -- and then the three veteran judges take over. Focusing on literary merit, performance and intangibles, they'll take turns spouting quick-witted commentary about each story, then select their favorite to advance to the finals.
The two finalists then compete in a finale, which trades in the show's literary sensibility for an absurd and comical climax to determine who takes home the Literary Death Match crown. The match creators call it the "great literary ruse," because in between all the antics, the judging creates a relationship with the viewer as a judge themselves.
Martin chose the four writers to up the ante a little by making Tulsa's death match a "battle of the major publications," he said. A local percussion group will serve as the house band, and Martin promised, "There will be drinks, and more drinks. And prizes."
"At the end of the day," Martin said, "this is kind of a competition with its tongue placed firmly in its cheek."
So what else is going on with Booksmart Tulsa? An event featuring the best of The Onion's holiday stories, "Christmas Exposed," will be held at Harwelden Mansion on Dec. 6. "And next year, 10,000 other cool things," Martin promised.
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