Literary glory and basketball

23 November 2012 | This 'n' that

Fights with words: Baba Lybeck and Markus Nummi. Photo: Literary Death Match

Fans of new writing and competitive reading out loud converged on Korjaamo in Helsinki on October 25th for the second Finnish ‘episode’ of Literary Death Match. LDM (as it’s known to regulars) is a series of events created in the USA and hosted by Adrian Todd Zuniga in which authors perform live readings of their recent work and receive critical assessments from a panel of judges in a manner familiar to viewers of trashy TV talent shows.

The winners of the evening’s initial reading rounds advance to the final, where the ultimate victor is decided in a game show-style battle involving skills that are perhaps more tangential to the work of most authors.

In his shiny jacket, LDM co-founder Adrian Todd Zuniga certainly looked the part of the cheesy game show host. He was an enthusiastic compère and got the bilingual evening under way by introducing the panel of judges. Author Markus Nummi was to be responsible for assessing the competitors on literary merit, while Baba Lybeck, a radio journalist and host of Uutisvuoto (the Finnish TV version of the BBC’s topical panel show Have I Got News for You), would be awarding points for performance. The third member of the panel was journalist and author Ari Lahdenmäki, who was assigned the category of ‘Intangibles’, i.e. anything that didn’t fall under the other two headings.

Then it was time for this knock-down drag-out fight for literary glory to begin. The authors squaring up in the first round were Eeva Rohas and Marko Hautala. Thanks to a thrillingly dramatic performance in which she dashed her book to the floor partway through and carried on with the rest of her piece from memory, Eeva Rohas was the first textual pugilist to get through to the final.

After a brief interval in which thirsty competitors and spectators refuelled in the bar, Round 2 saw Suvi Valkonen, a spoken-word artist, squaring up to Karo Hämäläinen, who was billed as ‘Tampere’s Tom Wolfe’. Suvi, who lived for part of her childhood in the US, performed a couple of short pieces in English (perhaps especially for the benefit of our non-Finnish-speaking host?), but it was Karo Hämäläinen who emerged as the judges’ favourite in this round.

All of the judges took their duties very seriously and gave extensive feedback to each contestant. To ensure our American host could get a sense of his remarks, Markus Nummi helpfully gave an English summary after he finished addressing each performer. Remarkably, in each case he managed to distil his lengthy Finnish comments into a single English word – and in most cases, that word was ‘fantastic’.

Let the fight start: author Eeva Rohas and Adrian Todd Zuniga. Photo: Literary Death Match

The final round required some special equipment and assistance from members of the audience. First-round winners Eeva Rohas and Karo Hämäläinen went head-to-head in a basketball shootout using crumpled- up pictures of book burnings throughout history instead of balls. The scores were quite evenly matched at first, but then Eeva sank two baskets in quick succession to secure victory. She raised her fists in jubilation and received an Olympic- style medal.

During the course of the evening, Adrian Todd Zuniga announced that plans are afoot to create a TV pilot version of Literary Death Match, with some big names attached to the project.

Since its inception in New York in 2006, Literary Death Match has become a fixture in many cities across the US as well as London, and has visited a number of world cities besides Helsinki. The offbeat format and freewheeling atmosphere enable authors to show another side of themselves and present their work to audiences in a fun, engaging way that’s far removed from stuffy traditional author readings.

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