33 cities and counting: how Literary Death Match crowdsourced its way around the world

Todd Zuniga

Literary Death Match is a competitive literary night which began in New York and has spread to 33 cities worldwide, including London, Cardiff, Dublin and Glasgow. Here founder Todd Zuniga tells all…

Wakatake Onikoroshi: Fuel for “Bright Literary Ideas”

Literary Death Match was hashed out one early NYC evening, over spicy tuna rolls and hamachi sashimi. The question was how to make readings fun? The usual readings, we discovered, were: one reader shined, one went way too long, the other was lazily plodding through a blog entry they’d defecated earlier that afternoon. So, our sake-fueled yammering basically asked: how do we get only readers who shine? Tall task, until ComedyCentral.com’s Dennis DiClaudio jokingly said the words, “Literary Death Match.”

Crowdsourcing Brilliant Local Talent

When we kicked off, we didn’t know every one of the gazillion writers in New York City- but our friends did, and their friends-of-friends (and so on) did. So, instead of us hand-picking the four readers for Literary Death Match’s March 6, 2006 debut, we knocked on the doors of literary magazines, independent book publishers and asked the curators of other reading series, to send along who they felt was the best, brightest talent to “reader-represent them.”. The trade-off: they send us a writer we’d likely never met; we crow about the writer in relation to their magazine/series/latest book. Plus, the audience fills up with a bunch of like-minded literary nerds who get to see people outside their usual circle.

X-Factor Without All the Cruelty

We love laughing so hard we dribble (who doesn’t!?), which is why LDM’s judges are key. Too often, we’ve been to events where a stand-up comedian kills for eight minutes, only to be followed by a quietish, hyper-talented textsmith. With LDM, the judges make the movement from literature to comedy seamless. By being entertaining they protect the writers – hey, we’re sensitive writer-types ourselves – LDM judges are asked to follow two rules: 1. make at least one vague reference to your category (literary merit; performance; intangibles), and 2. don’t be a dick.

Blind Trust and Excitement Generation

We did four events the first year of LDM. Last year, we did 64 (we still can’t figure how this happened and yet, we remember them all!). It all started when Jenny Niven (now of the Melbourne Writers Festival) invited us to the Beijing Bookworm Literary Festival. After that, the formula was simple: If people from any city asked, we’d come. If enough people showed at the event, we’d come back. Tickets sold at the door paid for travel, couch invites served as the resting spots for our weary heads. Now, though…well, actually, it’s roughly the same system.

Where To Go From Here

If you’re in Nairobi, St. Petersburg, Buenos Aires, Tel Aviv, Auckland, Berlin or Lisbon get in touch!  We can’t wait to find out where Literary Death Match will go next. The magic of LDM for us: we get to hear amazing writers we may not have heard before, or ones we’ve always wanted to see; no two events are ever the same; and it never turns out quite how we expect.  So, we’ll just keep going until no one shows up, or until we get it just right.

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