Like a bug-eyed, whippet-thin P.T. Barnum, Todd Zuniga emcees Literary Death Match, a one-ring circus where the acrobatics are intellectual, not physical. The audience has just heard a faux-contrite memoir about drug addiction. Next they might get a lyrical poem or a surrealist micro story. The contenders are writers battling for bragging rights—and a cheap Olympic-style medal.
Zuniga, the 37-year-old editor of the lit mag Opium, founded the event in New York in 2006. “Readings are boring,” he says. “My goal is to make this a literary spectacle.” He has done just that, staging 235 shows in 43 cities, including Beijing, Helsinki, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. After reading a seven-minute clip of their work, writers receive a cheeky critique from the judges. The two finalists face off in a game of Literary Musical Chairs or Pin the Mustache on Hemingway.
On October 9 Zuniga brings the competition to Largo at the Coronet for a high-wattage doubleheader, with comedian Eric Andre Susan Orlean and Classy Ladies co-host Alie Ward Moby as judges. “My goal,” Zuniga says, “is to make L.A. the literary center of the world by 2022.”
[Update: The Oct. 9 event at Largo was originally supposed to be filmed for a pilot for a Literary Death Match TV show, but the filming has been postponed and the lineup of judges has changed.]
Photograph by Skip Sterling