October 6, 2010 — The kick off for the LDM100 tour at San Francisco's Litquake was nothing short of spectacular, with a wild centurial finale that saw Jason Bayani outduel fellow finalist Kari Kiernan 11-6 in a 100-second book stack competition that changed the face of literature forever.
But well before the two finalists did bookish battle at Elbo Room, the night started off with LDM SF co-producer Alia Volz introducing Kiernan, who led off the evening with a piece hilariously contemplating her high school experience. The tittering crowd was then hushed by a supremely moving piece by David Corbett (Do They Know I'm Running?), who told the story of going to a prison to read the point blank tale of Corbett’s wife losing her battle with cancer.
The mic was then handed over to a trio of all-star judges like none other, with Pulitzer Prize winners Jane Smiley (Private Life) and cartoonist Mark Fiore setting the stage for SF’s premiere comedian, W. Kamau Bell. About Kiernan, a tipsy Smiley announced her story “was funny, but the subject matter wasn’t funny, so that was good.” The judges then responded to Corbett, with Fiore drawing up a picture of Corbett as an inmate, and Bell opening his comments with, “I thought that story was hilarious!” to shocked and raucous applause.
The judges then huddled before making the difficult decision of naming Kiernan the night’s first finalist.
After intermission, the second round began with LDM SF co-producer M.G. Martin introducing performance poet Jason Bayani, who went off the page to deliver a series of poems — one about how loving white friends can cause real pain — that had the wowed crowd in throes. Then up stepped legendary music critic Joel Selvin (Smart Ass: The Music Journalism of Joel Selvin), who delved, very briefly, into a piece about Merle Haggard.
The judges again took center stage. Smiley’s charmed critique had the audience tittering, and Fiore — who respondeded with a drawing of Bayani’s ear — and said he liked authors “that looked like they could kick his ass.” Because Selvin’s piece was so short, Fiore only had time to draw his tie and facial hair, while Bell admitted a new distaste for country music, even though he could now recite it, line and verse.
After a painful deliberation, Fiore took the mic to pronounce Bayani as the night’s second finalist.
Then came the Literary Death Match finale, in which 100 books from Green Apple Bookstore were spilled on the stage, and host Todd Zuniga responded to a cat call of “Take it off!” by removing his jacket, shirt, shoes and socks. Kiernan and Bayani were tasked with making the tallest stack of books within 100 seconds, but were first given safety goggles and work gloves, then asked to pick a teammate from the crowd. The teammates were each handed an array of “tossables” — a decapitated foam head, a plastic bat, and a gummi foot — to use to knock down the book towers the two finalists were constructing. The dramatic result: each tall stack was battered down at least once, Kiernan was struck in the neck by a flung gummi foot, the bats blindly missed the target each time, and when the timer ticked to zero, Bayani was declared champion by a score of11-6, winning him not only the Literary Death Match crown, but literary immortality.