May 11, 2012 — Before a wonderfully wild Elbo Room crowd, Literary Death Match SF — presented by Paul's Hat Works — stormed to its record-setting 45th episode in San Francisco, with a delight-filled night that concluded with Team Michael David Lukas scoring a come-from-behind win against Team Sarah Marie Griffin in a mis-named Book Jenga finale by a final score of 8-7, winning Lukas the Literary Death Match crown.
The festivities began on a somber, if Jungian note, as hosts Todd Zuniga and Alia Volz paid tribute to recently departed artists Maurice Sendak and Adam Yauch. The round selection was then turned over to Fate, as Zuniga fired Nerf darts into the audience, each bearing the name of a valiant contender. On the very week that Obama made history by declaring his support for same-sex marriage, Fate delivered two same-sex rounds at the LDM (mere coincidence? or was the Elbo Room tapped into the Great Vein of the Universe?).
For Round One, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore and NEA grant recipient Michael David Lukas (author of The Oracle of Stamboul) took to the stage. Fiore eschewed paper and displayed instead three of his animated political shorts, providing live commentary. Lukas struck a more traditional pose, reading from an essay about an extended visit to his elderly fan base in Cincinnati, Ohio. Dry wit, ridiculous situations, heartwarming delights.
Then it was time to call in the judges, a super panel comprised of New Yorker 20-Under-40ist Daniel Alarcón (author of Lost City Radio and War by Candlelight), book editor/translator Rakesh Satyal (author of the Lambda Award-winning novel Blue Boy), and performance-scene-veteran-turned-hatmaker-extraordinaire Olivia Griffin (of Paul's Hat Works fame). Alarcón weighed in on literary merit, Satyal on performance (and by self-appointment, innuendo), and Griffith on head shape and size, using a hat-like measuring device that looked like it fell out of a Tim Burton movie. No easy call, but Lukas eked out a lead and took the round!
Round Two flipped the gender coin and it was time for goddess-on-goddess action! 2012 Kundiman fellow Mg Roberts read a piece both passionate and poetic, holding the entire Elbo Room rapt as if in a trance. Poet Sarah Marie Griffin (winner of LDM Dublin, Ep. 5), the stamp on her passport barely dry, was not ruffled. But that same cannot be said for the extremely long feather on her admiral-esque tricorn hat. It trembled, it whipped, it waved as Griffin's passionate and ecstatic poems grabbed the audience by the short hairs and reminded them that life and love and pain are worth it a thousand times over.
Another tough one for the judges. Even the gothic head measuring device was daunted. But when the heavens opened and the gods spoke, 'twas Griffin's name on the banner held aloft by the wing-ed cherubin.
Then it was Book Jenga time! Five races across the stage, first with one, then two, then three, then four, the, YES!, FIVE books balanced on their heads. Lukas and Griffin would do the one-book and five-book races, helped in between by volunteers from the audience. Team Griffin took an early lead, but Team Lukas caught up, scoring four points in the four-book race, putting them in range of the Book Jenga equivalent of a game-winning field goal. And Team Lukas did not disappoint!
Yes, both teams had to rely on flat hats (conveniently on hand, thanks to Paul's Hat Works) to balance five neck-straining books on their heads, but they did it! Griffin stumbled midstage, her books sliding slow motion off her head as an appropriately dramatic bit of opera came up*, while Lukas strode across the stage like a true champion marching toward the crown and medal as if his victory had been preordained.
(Okay, we made up the opera, slow motion part, but if you'd have been there, you'd know how perfect that would have been. So you should show up at the next LDM near you because no other reading series delivers these kinds of thrills and spills. Really. That's not hyperbole. No one does. Check on the Internet.)
Written by Andy Dugas.