Literary Death Match's Todd Zuniga discusses Mark Mallman, 'Paper Darts,' and his beauty routine

Literary Death Match's Todd Zuniga discusses Mark Mallman, 'Paper Darts,' and his beauty routine
Todd Zuniga

Since 2006, Todd Zuniga has been holding Literary Death Matches across the world. The event promotes local talent by giving them an opportunity to perform in a rollicking night of trouble-making. This Thursday, Zuniga will hold his sixth Twin Cities Death Match at the Nomad World Pub.

During the evening, four writers -- Martin Kihn, Tristan Jimerson, Sarah Stonich, and Kao Kalia Yang -- will read from new work. They will be judged by Emily Goldberg, Ian Rans, and Alexis McKinnis.

City Pages caught up with Zuniga last week as he was finishing a Death Match in Los Angeles that included Mark Mallman in its audience (the musician participated in LDM's fourth Twin Cities event last June). Zuniga will be holding more Death Matches over the next month in the U.S. and Europe.

The Twin Cities were LDM's favorite city last year. What did we do to get that title?

Here's my to-the-point sense of Minneapolis: everyone is talented, everyone we ask to do LDM says yes, everyone we invite absolutely brings it with such perfect-pitched Midwestern kindness and savvy, and everyone in the crowd rules. That's an amazing foursome of things, and thus the Twin Cities gets the City of the Year from us.

Mark Mallman was at the LA event you're now coming from. How is he?

Mark is fantastic. He's a richly talented and wonderfully smart and compassionate guy. I hang out with him here in LA about once a week. He sent me some new music he's been working on, and it's so freakin' good! Also, his hair is now four percent curlier from the Pacific air.

The final round of LDM is a spelling contest featuring names of famous writers. What's the hardest name that someone has spelled correctly?

In Miami, Mat Johnson (the fantastic writer of Pym), "phoned a friend" to spell Solzhenitsyn with the LDM crown on the line. His girlfriend stepped up, and nailed it, without pausing once. Everyone was stunned. The twist, though: It was worth 12 points (12 letters in the name)...but he was down by 13 points, so he didn't win. There was a revolt! The venue was burned down!

None of that happened, but I realize I should've lied and called it a tie, if I'd thought to, and brought the whole event to sudden death.

What do you mean when you say you believe in the "pop-culturalization" of literature?

I mean when you sit down to dinner with four friends, you don't say, 'Holy wow, did you see the latest episode of Breaking Bad!?' You say, 'Oh, man, did you read Etgar Keret's New Yorker debut in last week's issue!?' And I'm talking not only about writers, but about thinkers, people of intelligence. The default conversation tends towards what's easy for all involved -- movies, TV -- before it devolves into drunken chitchat about sex and dating. But, I want people to talk about stories in books the way they talk about the other things. And deeply! Not, 'I liked it.' But, 'I liked it because...'

What's your secret to looking 15 years younger than you actually are?

I drink a minimum of three liters of water a day, and I sleep a minimum of 19 hours a day.

Are you a Paper Darts guy or a Tangential guy?

You know the greatest part of my life these days: I don't have to decide. I adore Paper Darts, because they welcomed us so openly when we debuted LDM, but Tangential is so wonderful. I'm so glad to have discovered them. Its like pancakes versus waffles. Or, really, syrup versus syrup. All are delicious.

Are you often confused for being French?

Ha, I wish! Then more people would be interested in kissing me, and that seems like that would be a fun problem to have. I think I look Dutch, and I always say Dutch men are weird looking. Handsome, in many cases, but odd. Like the characters in Amanda Filippachi's Nude Men: optical-illusion males. I'm one of those, depending on if I scored 17 or 19 hours of sleep the night before.

What's next in your plan for world domination?

A 12-city, seven-country LDM tour that kicks off on February 28 in Kansas City. This includes our Scandinavia tour, which I wrote about on Huffington Post, and was the most open I've been about the honest-to-goodness challenges of producing LDM. Beyond that, when I'm back in LA in April, the real plan unravels: LDM on TV or bust.


Literary Death Match
Thursday, March 1
Doors at 6:30 p.m.
$6/$10 at the door
Nomad World Pub
501 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis

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