Creator and host of Literary Death Match brings the world famous read-off to our town next week as part of the 2017 Perth Writers Festival. It involves authors reading their work, competing against each other in front of comedian judges. And with the charismatic, snappy dresser Adrian Todd Zuniga at the helm, it’s easy to see how this event enjoys such popularity. We caught up with the man himself to find out more.
Adrian Todd Zuniga, photo by Jason Gutierrez.
Describe Literary Death match in 3 words:
Subversive. Raucous. Sexy.
What inspired the original idea?
When we started in March 2006, we wanted every reading to be the best reading ever and we also wanted them to be fun. We figured the best way to do that was to bring together an electrifying mix of brainiacs (authors) and smart-asses (judges), then finish it all with a lightning bolt of absurdity (the finale). The judges allowed us to get outside of the literary-only bubble, and the authors kept us grounded. And the constantly changing cast means you never know what you’re going to get.
Tell us about that first show in New York:
We did it in my favorite bar in Manhattan — The Back Room. A speakeasy in the Lower East Side with a fireplace, velvet walls and cozy chairs. And a sound-system from 1964. The wireless mics were our sworn enemy (they cut out every other second), but the room was packed and the air buzzed. Plus, Moby judged intangibles — which proved an important point, which was you were going to see people judging that made no sense, and all the sense in the world simultaneously.
LDM in action! Photo by Jason Gutierrez.
You’ve since held Literary Death Match all over the world including San Francisco, London, Beijing and now Perth – have you ever had a “How did we get here?” moment?
We’re almost in our 11th year, and when I think back to all the people that have done the show — which is over (holy shit!) 3,000 people (I thought we’d be around 2,000) — it boggles my mind (clearly, as my mind was just boggled). But moreover, there are just dozens of moments that would never exist in the world without the show’s existence. I’m very proud of those moments. The miracle of creation when something comes from nothing at all.
Do you have a favourite LDM show, or a favourite reading?
I’d say our “perfect” show came on October 1, 2014. It was this one (which you can hear on our podcast). There were probably others since that were that good, but that one just felt like everything hit in every possible way. And there have been so many incredible readings, it’s impossible to choose… but! I will. Because this one by Abraham Smith came early enough in the show’s life to become lore. It’s amazing. A poem about a man throwing a chair around the forest.
Which author, living or not, would you most like to have on the bill, who hasn’t been involved before?
Living: Stephen King, Gloria Steinem, Tobias Wolff, Ta-Nehisi Coates, George Saunders. Oh, and J.K. Rowling.
Dead: Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin, Aphra Behn, Mark Twain, Flannery O’Connor. Oh, and Hemingway. I dreamt he was going to judge once.
Have you ever participated as a writer/reader as opposed to a host?
I did! I won the 4th episode of all-time (we’re now on 465). We didn’t know it’d turn into this, so we did one in the park in NYC with people who were part of it at the start. I feel like the judges were biased (I should’ve lost to Shya Scanlon) and I lucked out in the finale. I love that I won, since it’d be weird to do it again (even with my debut novel coming next year). So, I got the victory when I could.
Zuniga hosts Literary Death Match, photo by Jason Gutierrez.
Where do you find is the place/space most conducive to writing for you?
Desks in windows on sunny days. So, it’s best I’m near a sunny day. But really, anymore, I just sit and type and wait for the world to fade into white noise. Easier said than done if my iPhone hasn’t been hidden far away.
You’re a stylish fellow – do you have your Perth outfit planned and ready to go?
Thanks! I’m trying to decide if I go with what I call my “Gryffindor Suit” to honor JK Rowling, or a blue, crushed silk tuxedo jacket. Though I might throw a wild card suit into the mix. So many options! Adrian Todd Zuniga
The Perth edition of Literary Death Match takes place on Friday 24 February in the State Theatre Centre of WA Courtyard as part of PWF’s Courtyard Sessions. Preceding LDM, three of the hottest spoken word artists – Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa, Omar Musa and Ziggy – will take to the stage.