Literary Death Match: Let's Get Ready To, Um, Read!

Fancy a bit of Literary Death Match?

Feature by Ryan Agee | 09 Aug 2011

Literary Death Match is a concept that combines literature with a gameshow element and somehow manages to make the end result something other than appalling – in fact, it makes it curiously appealing. Starting in 2006 and originally based in New York, the event quickly began spreading, and has now been staged in cities all over the world. These have so far included San Francisco, Paris, London, Toronto and Dublin, and the organisers make a point of using local writers as performers and judges wherever they go.

The format is this: four writers compete by reading their work in two randomly drawn semi finals, and the winner of each, as decided by a panel of celebrity judges, advances to the final, where a crazy game – never the same twice – decides who wins overall. As an example of this in practice, the recent Glasgow event had Helen Fitzgerald reading her work against Alan Bissett, who performed a piece from The Moira Monologues. Bissett’s performance edged Fitzgerald’s straight reading in the opinion of the judges, and he advanced to the final. Similarly, when Kirstin Innes read against Tim Turnbull, Innes’ reading was upstaged by Turnbull’s performance poetry, which absolutely brought the house down. The judging panel agreed, and put him through to the final.

That judging panel was also made up of local talent, with poet Liz Lochhead, comedian Ian MacPherson and a stand-in for George Galloway. Galloway couldn’t make it because he’d started legal proceedings against the Canadian government. Nobody was much surprised. The Bissett/Turnbull final took the form of a competition waged between two sides of the audience to memorise pictures of Scottish writers. Bissett won, but in performance terms, Turnbull probably had the best night. There’s something of a trick at work here – the Literary Death Match people are quite open about what they term a ‘ruse’. The judging may or may not be to your taste and the finale will certainly be no way to judge talent, but the very fact that these things draw you in, even if you object to them, is more than enough to start animated discussions in the room and debates in your own head. It’s a cunning plan indeed, and we expect it to play out beautifully for the festival crowd. The engaging regular host Todd Zuniga will be on hand to keep the disorder running smoothly, and though details of participants are typically kept quiet until shortly before the event, a crowd pleasing line-up is always guaranteed.


Literary Death Match will be in the Spiegeltent from 9pm on Aug. This one's FREE, just like all the rest are.