By Ray Routhier
Literary Death Match is not exactly what it seems.
First of all, no authors have died participating in it. Yet.
Second, it sounds like, and is set up like, an author reading competition. Creator/host Adrian Todd Zuniga travels to locations around the world and invites local authors to read. Local creative types are recruited to judge in the areas of literary merit, performance and intangibles.
But the judges are encouraged to meander a little bit, to have fun with their roles, and, in short, to not really judge anybody. So the result is a kind of improv theater piece disguised as an author competition.
"From what I've seen and been told, the judging is not really about judging but about having fun," said Tim Ferrell, a comedy writer and teacher who will be one of the judges for the Portland Literary Death Match at Space Gallery on Friday night. "They're encouraging us to say arbitrary things, non sequiturs, and basically to stay away from judging and critiquing. Throw in some jokes."
Zuniga, an award-winning magazine and fiction writer, helped launch Literary Death Match events in New York City in 2006. Since then, the matches have been held in almost 50 cities across the world, and Zuniga and others hope to turn it into a TV show someday.
The Literary Death Match website describes a match as a combination of a poetry slam, "American Idol" and the wacky kids' game show "Double Dare."
Portland's match will be fought by four local writers: Ron Currie Jr., author of "Everything Matters" and "Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles"; Susan Conley, author of "The Foremost Good Fortune," a Top 10 read in "O, The Oprah Magazine"; Lewis Robinson, author of "Officer Friendly" and "Water Dogs"; and Cathy Kidman, a writer, comedian and speaker whose essays appear on various websites, including the Huffington Post.
The judges include Ferrell, who was a writer for the Comedy Central cable channel, has performed as a stand-up comic, and now teaches his Comedy Workshop classes in South Portland; Pope Brock, author of "Indiana Gothic" and "Charlatan"; and Emilia Dahlin, a Maine singer-songwriter.
Each writer has six minutes or less to read something they've selected, then the judges take over. Two finalists are picked to compete for the night's crown.
When asked what she might read, Kidman declined to answer, fearing it would give her competitors an edge. But she did say she went looking for a piece of writing that has both "humor and vulnerability."
Kidman, of South Portland, is used to putting herself out there for an audience. She began writing and doing stand-up comedy about nine years ago when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. (She's cancer-free now.)
She has seen videos of Literary Death Matches, and admits to being a little overwhelmed. But in a good way, in an "I'm up for this challenge" kind of way.
"From what I've read, (Zuniga) thought readings were a little boring, and wanted to bring more pizzazz to literary events," said Kidman. "And from what I've seen, he's doing it."
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: