February 18, 2010 — Lethal literature was unleashed at the latest LDM NYC's 23rd episode, but the death-defying contestants proved the event’s name fortunately misleading once again. Host and Opium’s own Todd Zuniga was joined by co-host Shelly Oria, who plugged the upcoming LDM Tel Aviv (in August).
The night’s first reader was Melissa Broder, (author of When You Say One Thing But Mean Your Mother), who read a selection of poems, including “Dear Aging Anarchist,” about two anarchists in the hair care aisle of Duane Reade discussing the best method for making dreadlocks. Tin House editor and literary merit judge Rob Spilllman, a self-professed stickler for grading criterion, based his ruling on whether readers mentioned any of his five compulsory terms, which he took the liberty of keeping concealed throughout the night. Though Melissa failed to invoke any of the five, Rob did find plenty else to like.
Humor writer Wayne Gladstone followed Melissa, reading a few funny pieces, including a newscast by Anderson Cooper from an Olive Garden. Judging performance, artist and producer Sini Anderson noted a stray hair on both Wayne’s and Melissa’s clothes, which had driven her to imagine the two engaging in some pre-show Twister until Gladstone accidentally read “dick” instead of “dip,” causing her to reason that he might not have been interested in playing such a game with a female. During a commercial break, the judges took a moment to deliberate before announcing Gladstone as the finalist for the round.
Elyssa East, author of Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town, began the second round with a gruesome account of an assault. Before a silent room she detailed the continued pummelings of a female victim, and as the story’s escalating brutality reached its peak, Mardi Gras beads were thrown onto the stage, signaling the end of her time and a return to frivolity. Intangibles judge Cintra Wilson, a past LDM winner and author of Caligula for President, claimed enrollment at the elite School of Life by attacking East for her affluent background before admitting to being won over by her writing.
The night’s final reading was from Joanna Smith Rakoff (author of A Fortunate Age). She read an excerpt from her novel about a guy interested in producing culturally relevant classical music, who at some point feels like a character from a Woody Allen movie, making the story good. The judges offered their praise, and Spillman granted her extra points for unknowingly capturing him so well. After some deliberation, the judges named East the round finalist.
In the Mardi Gras-inspired finale, two volunteers from the audience were masked with pictures of famous NOLA authors — Anne Rice and Tennessee Williams — sparing them the embarrassment of squinting fearfully in front of an audience. The two finalists were then tasked to throw beads, from distance, around the volunteers' necks. Defying physics, Gladstone managed to get one necklace over the head of a volunteer, and a second dangled from the corner of Anne Rice's paper mug, sealing his win for the night, 2-0, and making him the latest Literary Death Match Champion.