My Grotto buddy Stephen Elliott defends his honor...
Suds flew Tuesday night at a Literary Death Match at the dance club Harlot. The competition, sponsored by Opium, a New York "journal of literary humor," featured four writers representing literary magazines.
The judges: Porchlight series co-founder Beth Lisick on performance, Jon Wolanske of the theatrical troupe Killing My Lobster on "intangibles," and Zyzzyva founder-editor Howard Junker on literary merit.
The first round pitted Joyce Maynard, representing Canteen, reading against Stephen Elliott, representing McSweeney's.
Judge Junker, leading off, was not positive. According to Elliott, reached the next day, Junker said, "Stephen Elliott is a writer of no literary merit." Junker, reached the next day, said his comment was that the piece "made me laugh a couple of times, but otherwise had no literary merit." Since the exact wording of this is essential if readers are to form their own opinions, I asked Opium co-founder Todd Zuniga to transcribe the words from a tape of the event. If Junker's recollection was accurate, said Elliott, he would buy him a new shirt. The exact comment, as transcribed: "Stephen Elliott made me laugh occasionally, but as a writer, I think he has no literary merit.'' In this particular Memory Death Match, Elliott takes the game.
Elliott said he was taken aback by criticism he said referred not to a particular piece but to his work in general.
Then, in a throng of people socializing offstage, Junker passed Elliott in the crowd, an opportunity the writer used to toss his beer on the judge and to make a humorous "bring it on" gesture. (He would never have engaged in a physical fight, he said later.)
"All of a sudden my shirt was drenched," said Junker. "I had no idea where it came from. I ... looked back and saw Stephen Elliott had thrown his drink on me. I walked past him to tell the organizers that I was going home." Litquake's Jack Boulware took up Junker's duties.
"I don't understand why Junker left last night," said Elliott the next day. "I had a shirt in my bag he could have borrowed."
Link: LEAH GARCHIK.