Adrian Todd Zuniga brings his rowdy writer competition Literary Death Match to the Elbo Room during Litquake.

Literary Death Match ready for action at Litquake

Literary Death Match has a racy history in San Francisco. When the live competitive writing event was in its infancy in 2007, author Stephen Elliot threw a beer in Howard Junker’s face.

Kind of a misfit version of the Algonquin Round Table, Literary Death Match also has a reputation for kissing, and lots of it.

“Once, Elissa Bassist was hosting and asked the judges some introductory questions,” LDM host and co-founder Adrian Todd Zuniga says. “She asked Susie Bright about being a sex-positive female. Susie stood up, walked over and kissed her. There were 500 people watching, and everybody went crazy.”

Bassist turned bright red, and received two more kisses from the other judges: ice skater Brian Boitano and author Daniel Handler.

Part of this year’s Litquake literary festival — which opens Friday and ends with the boisterous Litcrawl on Oct. 19 — Literary Death Match returns for its 50th show in The City, the 300th in its history.

LDM’s celebrity contributions to this Litquake show are Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley, local novelist Andrew Sean Greer and secret guests.

“I love Jane’s brain and everything about her,” Zuniga says. “Typically we ask people who have won a Pulitzer to judge rather than read, but I asked her to read this time, and I was thrilled she said yes.”

In front of a live audience, Literary Death Match pits four authors against each other, each reading seven-minute pieces. Three judges choose two finalists, who participate in a rowdy, sporty finale showdown, which can range from literary bowling to beer pong, lemonade-making to abbreviated versions of basketball.

The event has gone global. Zuniga has hosted shows at music festivals in England, barns in Ireland and at Edith Wharton’s stables in the Berkshires in Massachusetts.

“That was amazing and super weird,” Zuniga says. “I thought the stable was just funny. It’s a joke in itself, and it was beautiful. That’s probably the weirdest place we’ve done it.”

By combining the one-off experience of live theater with writing talent, LDM is a perfect complement to Litquake. Among the 2013 roster of hundreds of participating authors are Isabelle Allende, TC Boyle, Mary Gaitskill, Piper Kerman and Lewis Lapham.

“Litquake is an amazing week,” Zuniga says. “But this Literary Death Match is going to be one of the greatest nights in the history of literature. These seven people will never do this again. Then everybody will get to make out with someone.”


Literary Death Match

Where: Elbo Room, 647 Valencia St., S.F.

When: 7:15 p.m. Oct. 18

Tickets: $12 to $15

Contact: (415) 440-4177,

Highlights of Litquake

Opening night: Jean-Christophe Valtat, author of “Aurorarama,” is the special guest at the festival’s kickoff, a steampunk-themed party celebrating Jules Verne. [7 p.m. Friday, $15. Z Space, 450 Florida St., S.F.]

Barbary Coast Award: Litquake honors Last Gasp founder Ron Turner, who in more than 40 years of publishing, has brought R. Crumb, Frank Kozik, S. Clay Wilson, Mark Ryden and more to the masses. [8 p.m. Wednesday, $15. Z Space, 450 Florida St., S.F.]

Mary Gaitskill: The best-selling author of “Bad Behavior” speaks and reads from her work at this event hosted by local author Tom Barbash. [7 p.m. Oct. 18, free. California College of the Arts, 1111 Eighth St., S.F.]

Anne Perry: The popular mystery and thriller writer appears in conversation with local mystery writer William C. Gordon. [7:30 p.m. Oct. 18, $10. Glass Door Gallery, 245 Columbus Ave., S.F.]

T.C. Boyle: The master short-story writer appears at Litquake for the first time, speaking on inspiration, writing and more. VIP tickets include a pre-event reception with the author. [8 p.m. Oct. 18, $20-$100. Z Space, 450 Florida St., S.F.]

Litcrawl: Live readings of poetry, fiction, nonfiction and more take place in bookstores, bars, art galleries, restaurants, stores, cafes, a bowling alley, community spaces … even a police station. [6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 19, free; for schedule, visit]Adrian Todd ZunigaartsbooksLiterary Death MatchLitquake

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