June 5, 2011 — On a wonderfully steamy northern night at Aster Cafe, literary history was made as Jessica Fox-Wilson narrowly outshined co-finalist Geoff Herbach in a down-to-the-wire game of Literary Card Sharks to take the Literary Death Match crown by a final score of 5-3.
But well before the Jim Perry was channeled, the night kicked off with a first round that pit a nearly post-pneumonia'd Herbach (author of Stupid Fast) against Minnesota Book Award champ Lightsey Darst (author of Find the Girl). Darst led off with a careful, hyper-engaging series of pieces from Find the Girl that had the audience on the edge of their seats. Then up stepped Herbach launched into a wonderfully energetic story that featured Conan, the word "man" and other such whimsy that had the audience booming with applause.
The mic was then handed to the trio of all-star arbiters: music-makers Jeremy Messersmith (The Alcatraz Kid & The Reluctant Graveyard) and performative mastermind Mark Mallman (City Pages' Best Live Artist, 2010), and FM107's Colleen Kruse. They reeled off hilarious commentary before huddling. After a painful deliberation, it was Herbach who won the split-decision, sending him on as the night's first finalist.
After a booze-fueled intermission, the joyful, pro-beard crowd was given a brilliant treat in Round 2, as Best American Short Story 2009 includee Ethan Rutherford was up against poet Jessica Fox-Wilson (author of Blameless Mouth). Rutherford was masterful, telling a story about telling his father that he would bereading at Literary Death Match, and while he survived two flung Nerf darts, his reading the second-longest in LDM history (surpassing the time limit by 3:11). Then it was Fox-Wilson's time to shine, and how! She reeled off a series of fairy-tale-style poems, the final one being Uptown Minneapolis-specific that had the crowd in a state of giggly wonder.
Again the mic was handed to the judges. About Rutherford, Mallman told a story about judging an air guitar competition in which one kid broke both of his knees by jumping off a stage before the competition got under way, and said Rutherford's time-overage, as fantastic as it was, was like breaking his knees. Kruse recommended Fox-Wilson write an book of fairy tale poems based in uptown, while Jeremy Messersmith wondered what her baby (she's pregnant!) was doing while she was reading. While Mallman said: “Evil. Evil. Evil. This woman is evil.” Confronted with another tough decision, and after light years of consideration, the judges decided Rutherford's knees were broken, and Fox-Wilson was sent on as the night’s second finalist.
Then up stepped host Todd Zuniga who introduced the Cards Sharks-style finale. Twin Cities Ep. 4 producer Sarah Moeding dealt cards to five volunteers who held them close to their chest. Each finalist was then asked, in turn, to guess if the next card was higher! or lower! — trying not bust. As the crowd shouted their opinions, Fox-Wilson charged to an early lead after the first round, but Herbach caught fire, tying it up going into the final round. With a 9 showing (Anne Tyler), Herbach took a chance and guessed high, but it was the 2 (Maggie Ryan Sandford) who appeared, which shattered Herbach's hopes. It was Fox-Wilson who was crowned champ, and literary immortality was all hers!