In a rousing finale that transferred the entire Elbo Room audience from floor to stage, novelist Kwei Quartey gathered a vast literary social network of novelists, beating out short story master Thaisa Frank.
Co-hosts Alia Volz and M.G. Martin introduced the night's theme by circling and texting one other on their phones, their messages—including takes on "LDM": Lousy Damn Metaphor, Lonely Drunk Manatee, Loud Dixie Mama — paraded back and forth on cue cards carried by the ever-helpful Mike Skott of Ink Publishing & Design.
Novelist Craig Clevenger and Thaisa Frank faced off in the first round. Frank won the book toss, but gamely ceded first read to Clevenger, who astonished the audience with a post-apocalyptic scene in which surgically-gifted egrets pluck bird shot from the protagonist's leg wounds. Frank fearlessly read a ense and heart-stirring scene in which a widow struggles with what to do with her husband's final, hand-written poem.
No one in the audience envied the judges—Michael Krasny (host of KQED’s Forum, author of Spiritual Envy), inventor/radio personality DJ Dennis “The Menace” Scheyer, and LDM London's own Nicki Le Masurier—as they struggled to decide a winner. Finally, they fathomed Frank as the favorite. (Ever classy, Clevenger quickly clasped Frank in a congratulatory clutch.)
After a refreshing break overseen by Matt, best bartender ever, the audience witnessed what must have been the most divergent pairing of readers and material in LDM history: Kwei Quartey, novelist and physician, vs. slam/street poet extraordinaire Sam Sax.
Quartey read first, his soft spoken style and understated performance captivating the room. The audience was enthralled in a tense silence as Quartey's protagonist, a temple concubine, exacted her swift and fitting revenge on an abusive priest. When his turn came, Sam Sax was nowhere to be seen. Where's Sam? Where's Sam? Then a powerful voice boomed from amid the crowd, and the bearded bard wound his way to the stage, reciting all the way. He sang of Hart Crane and his significance for queer poets ever since. He sang of the struggle for gray identities in a world that sees only black and white. And he kept singing even as the timekeeper's Supersoaker unleashed its fury.
Another tough call for the judges, whom host MG Martin tried to help along with a rousing, foot-stomping ospel tune. After confessing to the difficulty of the decision, especially for a self-proclaimed Hart Crane fan, spokesman Krasny delivered the decision in Quartey's favor.
For the finale, audience members had been seeded with cards with authors' names and number of published novels. These proved critical, as Frank and Quartey took turns selecting audience members to come on stage. The number of novels equated to the number of "friends" that could be added to one's "literary social network." It doesn't take a Stanford mathematician to tell you that the stage was crowded in mere moments, more people on than off, the chairs and tables as weirdly empty as the Roanoke colony. With a deft decision to add Margaret Atwood (sixteen novels!) and before the fire marshal could get wise, Quartey was declared the winner, an accomplishment no doubt right up there with his degree in medicine.
—by Andrew O. Dugas