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Chicago, Ep. 7 (at AWP)

March 2, 2012 — In what's being called the "Greatest LDM Ever" (presented by Versal and Painted Bride Quarterly) a superstar-laden celebration of our 200th event at Buddy Guy's Legends culminated in a wild finish, which included the first-ever stripping of the LDM medal, before the night ended with Roxane Gay (author of Ayiti) toppling National Book Critics Circle finalist Major Jackson in the Literary Spelling Bee sudden death, to win by the narrowest of margins. 

But well before the first complicated author name was presented, the genius-filled night kicked off with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley (author of A Thousand Acres and Private Life) who's told the story of a who guru gave her narrator a free session and said she was a god. Next up was PANK co-editor Roxane Gay (author of Ayiti), who read a wicked story about a woman seducing a crazy-hot Haitian man, a story of love/zombies/love. 

The mic was then turned over to the trio of gobsmacking judges that included award-winning author Michael Martone (author of Four for a Quarter and Michael Martone), the insanely talented poet Mark Doty (author of Fire to Fire, and the winner of these awards: National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Whiting Writers Award, two Lambda Literary Awards), and performer, writer, Second City teacher Rachael Mason. The three rattled off brilliant, bright-brained commentary that had the audience heaving with laughter/pleasure. Once they're comments were done, followed by a long deliberation, they announced that it would be Gay who advanced as the night's first finalist. 

Next came a brief and boozy intermission, followed by a life-altering Round 2 that featured National Book Critic's Circle Award winner Darin Strauss (author of Half a Life), followed by the winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and National Book Critics Circle finalist Major Jackson. Strauss led off with a iPhone-read tale of youth that nerded out to the nth degree when he made a reference to the Kwisatz Haderach from Dune. Up next was Jackson, who read a series of poems, highlighted by one in which inner-city black kids being named after Renaissance painters because the teacher couldn’t pronounce their names. 

Again, the mic was turned over to the judges, who dispensed with as much wisdom as whimsy, before huddling. Faced with yet another impossible decision, the judges selected Jackson to advance as the night's second finalist. 

Then came a finale like none before it, as LDM creator Todd Zuniga announced the two finalists would go at it in a Literary Spelling Bee, tasked with spelling complicated author names. After they'd burned through the Theroux's and Thoreau's, it all came down to Gay's failed (?) attempt to spell Dostoevsky, and Jackson was crowned champion — BUT WAIT! During the post-victory Q&A, a bold audience member stood up and claimed that Solzhenitsyn had various spellings, and the medal was stripped and Gay had new life. After tying the match, it went to sudden death, in which the finalists traded off saying one letter from Jeffrey Eugenides' name (with Zuniga announcing the spelling as LDM had it on the card would have to stand). While Versal's EIC Megan M. Garr held the card high for all the audience to see, Gay and Jackson traded letters: E! U! G! E! but as the pace quickened the inimitable Jackson finally faltered, and it was Gay who was crowned as the champion, winning not only LDM200, but winning literary immortality to go with it! 

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