January 9, 2009—Opium’s Literary Death Match Ep. 14 kicked off the New Year at a new venue--the Elbo Room--where, before a packed house, Veronica Chater of Memoir (and) adeptly recited Shakespeare while hula-hoop-ing to beat out co-semi-finalist, Katie Crouch.
Participants Jaynel Attolini (Six Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak) and Crouch (Tin House) took the stage to begin Round 1. Rocking white go-go boots, the fair co-host Alana Conner asked Attolini to share her six-word memoir. "Among your sexiest attributes: Health Insurance," she replied. To Crouch, Conner asked, "And what does the author of Girls in Trucks write about for Glamour magazine?" "I wrote about being a threesome," she answered.
Crouch won the coin toss (or card toss) and chose to go second. Attolini charmed the audience with a heartfelt personal essay about returning home and facing a less-than-a-friend's and her father's opinions of her commitment to be a writer. Crouch followed with a tale about a man building a bench, which had the crowd (and Crouch) in stitches.
An A-list judging team--which included Andrew Leland (The Believer), whose take on Literary Merit included many loud, enthusiastic, expletives; Melanie Case (Killing My Lobster), whose beauty was matched only by her kindness in judging Performance; and James Hass (The Farallon Review, who left the Intangibles decisions to a stack of Tarot cards--was left to make a difficult decision. In the end, Crouch was chosen to advance to the final round.
After a brief intermission, the crowd reconvened to watch Rodes Fishburne face off against Chater. Stephen Elliott introduced Fishburne and his new webzine, The Rumpus; "Fishburne's first novel, Going To See the Elephant," Elliott said, "has already been chosen as one of the best books of 2009." Fishburne led off Round 2 with an excerpt from his book, about a young man living in San Francisco trying to write the greatest novel of all time. Chater followed with the story of her first great love: her dog ("with testicles that ballooned.")
Fishburne drew "The Hanged Man" card from James' tarot deck and things looked grim. When the Intangibles judge then asked Chater if she felt like gleefully running down Market Street naked, she replied, "No," to which he replied, "Well, don't worry, you will." Indeed, Chater moved on the final round.
Next co-host Sky Hornig gave a solid demonstration of the Death Match final task, “Shuffle Off This Mortal Coil,” which entails hula-hooping while reading Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy from The Complete Works of Shakespeare. As the first line left Crouch’s lips, the hoop sadly sank to Crouch's ankles. Chater skillfully held the hoop high and took home her well-deserved crown.