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LA, Ep. 11

July 11, 2012 — In what was one of the most wondrous nights of LA's literary year, Literary Death Match stormed the Hammer Museum where an energetic (and sold-out!) audience witnessed a calamatous finale that saw memoirist Jeanne Darst out-silly string fictonist Tupelo Hassman by a final score of 7.3 grams to 4.5 grams (what!?) to win the Literary Death Match LA, Ep. 11 crown!

But before the finale was even a consideration, the delightful Round 1 kicked off with Hassman read a scatter of Dorothy Allison-esque selections from her debut novel GirlchildNext up was author/playwright Rex Pickett who zipped brilliantly through an excerpt from his debut novel Sideways (note: apparently it was his first-ever reading from the book). 

The mic was then handed over to the night's superstar trio of judges, including jack-of-every-trade Henry Rollins (author most recently of Occupants), hilarious comedian/Twitter darling Rob Delaney, stand-up genius/writer/accidental actor Tig Notaro (host of the Professor Blastoff podcast). 

About Hassman, Rollins led off by praising Hassman’s fantastic and vivid prose, while Notaro listened to the story as if a police officer researching clues in a trailer park who eventually figured out that Hassman's narrator was, in fact, the problem. Then their attention turned to Pickett, with Rollins summarizing the story — two men trying to get laid, and failing — and wondering why they didn't fall on one another at night's end. Pickett's pace reminded Notaro of her youth when she'd read stories with no punctuation to make her friends laugh, while Delaney admitted that Pickett's excerpt made him feel way more normal about the fact that he's peed into a cup. 

The trio huddled, and faced with an impossible decision, decided it was Hassman who would be the night's first finalist. 

While bottles of wine were being secretly doled out, Round 2 quickly commenced with Darst leading off with off a pitch-perfect excerpt from her memoir Fiction Ruined My Family about her overbearing literary father and his idea of the ideal reading list. Then up stepped the crowd-rousing Javon Johnson (featured on Def Poetry Jam), who performed a pair of electrifying pieces, the last of which focused on his experience of driving around with his nephew, and the first time he ever had to lie to his nephew. 

Again the mic went to the judges, with Rollins' critique of Darst coming down to two simple words: "smart and funny," followed by Notaro who applauded Darst's performance, calling her "a natural reader" who was a blend of Jane Fonda and Pat Benetar. About Johnson, Rollins talked about how moved he was by his performance, while Notaro loved that while Johnson was tackling difficult topics of relationships and race, he was wearing what she called "a gentle shoe." Delaney chimed in with an admission that he was thrilled to hear about cunnilingus — particularly after Darst's attempt to broach the subject were cut short by the time limit.

Again, another too-difficult-for-words decision for the judges, but after a long deliberation, they announced it would be Darst that would advance as the night's second finalist.  

Then host and LDM creator Todd Zuniga invited Hassman and Darst to take center-stage, as he explained the baffling finale rules: the finalists would shoot silly string into the mouths (well, posters with mouths cut out) of TC Boyle and Raymond Chandler. Round 1 was brilliant, with both nailing the target with ease. But for Round 2 there was a twist, as two volunteers were tasked with blindfoldedly spraying silly string at the target (they hit each other more than the intended target). For Round 3, the finalists were again the gunwomen, taking aim with their heads wrapped in a scarf (confused? see the pictures below — though maybe it won't help). Then, as a last-ditch effort to raise the weight of their silly string bags, each finalist was allowed to throw the empty can, blindfoldedly, towards the mouth of the writer. Hassman missed, but Darst struck with Justin Verlander-like accuracy, which surely put her over the top, as the scale would show: Darst was champion by a 2.8 gram margin, winning her the Literary Death Match LA, Ep. 11 crown, and literary immortality to go with it!

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