Underground Arts is a cavernous subterranean space, true to its name. Dimly lit by neon industrial and antique-style lights, Literary Death Match founderAdrian Todd Zuniga stands on the small stage and welcomes us to the event, most of us for the first time. “Good,” he chuckles, hearing that most of us are newbies. “That includes most of the people involved, so that means none of you have any idea what you’re getting into.”
After introducing the contestants and judges, asking them questions such as how they would die a literary death or which famous author they would prefer to perform their surgery, the first round featured Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon facing off against Ru Freeman. Witherspoon was first, reading a fiery piece about an even fierier Baptist funeral sermon. Freeman followed with cool ease, telling the story of a young Sri Lankan boy caught in the middle of revolution, then stripping off her long skirt and jacket to reveal an abbreviated red dress and telling of a seductive dance. Despite the stiff competition, Witherspoon took the round.
In the second round, Lee Klein and Paul Lisicky faced off for the final Finals seat. Klein, the first contestant in round two, read, crumpled, and threw out into the audience a number of rejection letters for pieces deemed unpublishable for his literary website Eyeshot. But his hysterical rejections were not up to the challenge from Paul Lisicky in the clean-up position, who won the round with an excerpt from his memoir, Famous Builder, about his love for Joni Mitchell and distaste for the Clash.
The finalists met onstage for a slow-to-start but riveting six games of literary pictionary. In this audience-participation event, both authors assembled a team of half the audience. Upon hearing the first word, Middlesex, the first artist plucked from the crowd said, “I think of something different than everyone else when I see that word.” Eventually, the team behind Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon figured it out, and went on to take the first four games for six points. A late-game momentum swing hit in the last two games of pictionary, however, and Paul Lisicky went on to become the glorious champion of Philadelphia’s fifth Literary Death Match.
In between the rounds and during the judges’ conferences, host Zuniga shared some of LDM’s history and aspirations, hawked some wares, mostly of the drinking variety, and celebrated the fortieth anniversary of Painted Bride Quarterly with an awesome purple and hot pink cake. We couldn’t have been happier to spend it this way.