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Literary Death Match will feature four St. Louis writers in a rowdy competition

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Jason Gutierrez
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Literary Death Match
St. Louis native Adrian Todd Zuniga created the event after wondering how one could have a literary reading that is always "amazing."

When writers gather to compete in a Literary Death Match, the stakes are clear.

“A medal, which costs $7,” founder Adrian Todd Zuniga said of the prizes for the winner, “and literary immortality.”

It’s not quite a life-and-death situation, but four writers will assemble at the Kranzberg Arts Foundation’s Midtown venue High Low on Thursday for a competition that is sometimes serious, sometimes funny and often rowdy.

This is the first Literary Death Match in St. Louis, which will become the 71st city to host a bout. Memoirist Gabe Montesanti, author Ron A. Austin, writer and scholar Deborah Jackson-Taffa and essayist Angela Hamilton will compete in a series of short readings from their prose work.

They will be judged by poet Treasure Shields Redmond, actor Olajuwon Davis and stand-up comedian Max Pryce in the categories of literary merit, performance and “intangibles.”

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Emily Woodbury
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St. Louis Public Radio
Adrian Todd Zuniga will host the event, and Deborah Jackson-Taffa is one of four competing writers.

Zuniga and Jackson-Taffa joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss the special character of the event and the type of work that tends to go over well with the crowd.

“If you start funny and end sad, that’s great. If you start sad and end funny, that’s great. And I actually love when people take the risk of reading serious work,” Zuniga said. “Anything that dazzles the crowd and represents the writer is the right way to go.”

Zuniga is a native of St. Louis who has since relocated to Australia. He’s the host and general ringleader of the event, and he plans to wear a sparkling blue tuxedo as a salute to the St. Louis Blues. He came up with the idea for Literary Death Match after deciding that traditional literary readings had problems — like performers who went on too long or were better suited to using a pen than a microphone.

“I would go to tons of readings. I love readings,” Zuniga said. “But a group of friends got together and we wondered, how do we make sure every reading is amazing? We didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings, so we decided to end it with a literary game.”

Jackson-Taffa has taught at Webster University and Washington University, and led efforts to create a Native American heritage program in Missouri during her time on the state’s Humanities Council. Harper Collins will publish her memoir “Whisky Tender” next year.

She said her book has a mix of serious themes and moments of dark humor that should suit the Literary Death Match environment. On Thursday, she will read an excerpt about her parents’ wedding day, when her father accidentally drove their car into the side of a dive bar.

Literary Death Match comes to St. Louis

“Forever in my life with them, they talked about that as being kind of a very happy moment. They were able to twist struggles and challenges into their life into something that has an optimistic bent. I have really fueled myself on that,” Jackson-Taffa said. “The book that I wrote is about the American dream. It’s about loving America even when we’re challenged by America.”

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

Related Event
What: Literary Death Match in St. Louis
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10
Where: High Low (3301 Washington Ave., St. Louis, MO 63103)

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.