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I’m a ‘Literary Death Match’ Finalist!

by Serina Gousby

On Tuesday, September 11th, I participated as one of the readers competing at Literary Death Match, and it was an incredible experience. Although I didn’t win the medal, being a finalist is an honor that I will always remember for years to come.

The event marks my first ever mainstream event as a poet, and the opportunity came at such a perfect time. Before this, it was leading up to 10 months since I performed my spoken word in front of a large audience, and my motivation to write new poetry was at an all time low. Suddenly, about a month ago, I was approached by the host of Literary Death Match, Adrian Todd Zuniga, and he asked me if I wanted to be a reader. At first, I thought it wasn’t real, and went into detective mode to make sure I wasn’t being catfished. After digging into the history of the event, I realized that this was indeed a real request, and I immediately signed on.

I’m also proud that I was found through my blog, which serves as a reminder to never stop writing because opportunities may come my way because of it. I hope this serves as a reminder for you as well if you are a writer.

 

If you don’t know, Literary Death Match consists of four emerging writers, three celebrity judges, and three rounds…it’s like a half reading event/ half game show where two rounds has two writers of the four competing each other with their best work, the judges vote the winner of each round, and the winning finalists play a game that’s completely unrelated to their writing, and the champion wins a medal.

Min Jin Lee, author of Pachinko and finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction, was the judge for literary merit. Comedian Bethany Van Delft, MOTH StorySlam host, and performed on Comedy Central and 2 Dope Queens, was the judge for performance. Lastly, Comedian Sean Sullivan, one of Boston’s fastest-rising comedy stars, was the judge for “intangibles” (which basically means a friendly roast or humorous opinion). I was a part of the first round, and competed against humorist and essayist Rachel Klein, and the second round was Nina MacLaughlin, writer & carpenter, and Jonathan Escoffery, award-winning short story writer and the 2018 Boston champion of Literary Death Match.

Each reader had 7 minutes or less to perform their work, which meant that I had enough time to share more than one poem. I recently started this idea, coming from a poet that I heard at The Haley House, to start with a warm-up poem before I start with my spoken word piece. For that, I chose a poem that I wrote in honor of Prince, called “When You Discover After Death.” Within a week before the event, I was struggling to figure out a topic for my second poem, and I felt the pressure to figure out how to relate to a different audience. My past big performances has been in front of diverse communities at Suffolk University, my alma mater. However, I knew that based on the location of LDM and the audience of the event, I needed to adjust my writing that would relate to any race and ethnicity, yet still stay true to myself. So, I thought, what would I say to a guy if I was forced to “shoot my shot?” The second poem is called “Six Things I Hope Won’t Scare You Off”

Watch here to see the spoken word performance of my second poem:

So, how was it? The responses I received made me feel incredibly special, and I was shocked that my writing had the power to touch people. I still can’t believe that I made a few people cry, and then I thought back on the various imperfections and confessions I made on my second poem, and in honor of Suicide Prevention Week, it was important for me to briefly explain why poetry is my “first love.” After that performance, I didn’t even think of the competing aspect of it because I was so grateful to share my vulnerability and humorous side to such a supportive audience. Initially, I was so afraid that my knees and hands were shaking, but after reading the Prince poem, I calmed down.

Also, Author Min Jin Lee said that I would be Anne Sexton’s and Langston Hughes’ love child. You best believe I’m remembering that compliment for the rest of my life.

The other three amazing readers blew my mind with their various styles of writing, and messages that they brought to the stage. Just before the final round, writer Eleanor Lane came on stage and read her short story, because she won Literary Death Match’s 250-Word Bookmark Contest.

In the final round, it was surreal, because Jonathan is an instructor at GrubStreet, and the founder of the Boston Writers of Color group, which I coordinate in support of Grub, so basically it was GrubStreet vs. GrubStreet. The game that we played was a math game, in which we created our own teams, and answered ridiculous math questions. I haven’t used that side of my brain since my sophomore year of college, so I already had to prepare myself that this win may not happen for me—and I was right. My competitive side of me was incredibly disappointed, however the people who came up to me after the show made me feel so much better—including my brother, my best friend Naika, a few of my co-workers at Grub, and other local writers and poets. I have a bad habit at beating myself up whenever I fall short, so it meant so much to me that I at least won in having a lasting effect on people through my poetry.

This opportunity introduced me to more people in the literary world, and showed me how important our voices are. I never been invited to a show where people bought tickets and wanted to hear four writers get judged by accomplished judges, but I have now, and I’m incredibly honored to be known as a finalist of Literary Death Match. Find out if the show comes to your area soon, you’ll have so much fun.

Be sure to check out recent works from my fellow writers:

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