Culture & Conversation

Nerf Guns and New Lit

Literary Death Match is poised to deliver a beat down to Montreal’s writing scene tomorrow night at La Sala Rossa. If you’re not tapped into the death match movement you are not alone, but the event’s popularity is growing worldwide. When author, radio host and to-be LDM judge Jonathon Goldstein and I chatted about the upcoming event he quickly confessed that he knew nothing at all about it, but that they “seemed nice” so he’d agreed to take part.

Founded by Todd Zuniga of Opium Magazine in 2006, LDM events guarantee “to help revitalize the coolitude of the printed word”; a phrase that surely made the folks at Maisonneuve Magazine salivate, and thus decide to pair up with LDM Montreal to launch their 41st issue.

Goldstein is set to officiate with performer Alexis O’Hara, and Said the Gramophone founder Sean Michaels. Montreal’s invited readers include Katrina Best, Byron Rempel, Jason Camlot and Zoe Page, who will each read their writing in seven minutes or less before the audience and the three judges.  After the readings, the judges will take turns commenting on each story. The first round of judging is based solely on literary merit and performance. The Literary Death Match finale, on the other hand, has nothing to do with merit of a literary kind. At past events it is reported that finalists threw cupcakes at Margaret Atwood’s head. At others, Nerf gun fights erupted.

Past guest judges have been a varied crowd, including Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo, Chuck Palahniuk and, and, unexpectedly, Moby.

In anticipation of some of the awkward and hilarious moments he’s set to judge on Tuesday evening, I asked Goldstein about his worst reading experience. He recounted a time in L.A when only two people showed up, one having wandered in to do his income tax. Opening for a death metal band was next on the list. But, he feels that such readings are essential experiences in the career of any young writer.  Only by learning to be entertaining will the writer succeed in getting an audience’s attention (the real audience, not the theoretical one, Goldstein stresses).

Though it’s no longer hard for Goldstein to get attention, he reflected that the reading circuit led him, albeit somewhat circuitously, to the PRI radio studio of This American Life and to his hosting CBC’s Wire Tap. He admits to loving the carnival atmosphere of some of his early reading forays, but worries that the lash back against the typical reading can in fact ‘make it worse.’ He stressed, too, about being “judgey” of others’ work on Tuesday night.

I tried to reassure that LDM’s press track record promises a competitive, but comical night. The shtick is to jazz up the ‘typical literary reading’ by unapologetically focusing more on silliness than writing. That said, their audience sounds characteristic of the usual lit crowd. They boast “a bevy of educated urban tastemakers between the ages of 21-45 (60% women.)”

What is unexpected is that there are LDM events in 37 cities over the world, including New York, San Francisco, London and Beijing and people are attending in solid numbers.  Club night crowds are purported to reach 120+ onlookers. At festivals and events at cultural institutions, they’ve attracted as many as 500 guests.

By combining writing with the suggestion of violence and the hyperactivity (and reckless danger) of a kid in a toy store, LDM may be the literary reading’s last hope.


EVENT DETAILS: Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at La Sala Rossa 4848 Boulevard Saint-Laurent. Doors at 7; Show at 8:15 (sharp). $7 pre-order; $10 at the door, including a FREE copy of Maisonneuve’s Fall Issue.

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