Don’t Be a Jerk? I Can’t Work Under These Conditions, says Literary Death Match Judge Will Ferguson

Chris Turner

Chris Turner

After safely delivering Margaret Atwood to the airport with Jo yesterday—and allowing the euphoric chemicals circulating my bloodstream to settle–I hit the ground running with a noon-hour event featuring Susan Delacourt (Shopping for Votes) and Calgary’s own Chris Turner (The War on Science: Muzzled Scientists and Wilful Blindness in Stephen Harper’s Canada).

I met my political-junkie husband Dave at the event, where he leaned forward in his seat, closely absorbing the discussion on the health of Canadian democracy.  Dave grew up in a home of routine dinner-table political debate.  His father (whom I like to affectionately refer to as Danny) was a political science prof at the University of Regina, and all three of his sons share an avid interest in politics.  Throughout the event, I noticed Dave taking more notes than I was, which sent a thin line of anxiety down my spine.  I’m supposed to be the Blogger!  I caught myself peering neurotically at his notes like a cheating high school student.  Ultimately, I whispered, “Maybe I can get a quote from you after?”  He smiled indulgently.

For me, after hearing these two authors speak and answer audience questions, I was reminded how crucial it is for us to stay informed and engaged with what is going on in our municipal, provincial and national governments.  We have a social responsibility as citizens to pay attention and seek out information instead of passively waiting for facts, knowledge and insight to be fed to us.  Later, I asked Dave what he felt the most important message was from the discussion. “The ascendancy of ideology over fact,” he said, and repeated a quote that Turner had cited in his presentation.  “We’ve moved from evidence-based policy making to policy-based evidence making.  This impacts social policies and political platforms a great deal.”

Susan Delacourt

Susan Delacourt

Both Turner and Delacourt’s books are guaranteed to enlighten, educate and deepen our collective understanding of political marketing, the role and influence of the media, the reduced capability of our current government to collect vital information—from fish counts to human statistics.  On the muzzling of science—and to read some of the points covered by Chris Turner at the event—read this (very) recent article he wrote for The Star.

A few hours later, down the street at the Art Gallery of Calgary, some plates and ceramics were cathartically smashed to bits where this year’s Anne Green Award winner (Ann Shin) presented her multimedia interpretation and collection of poetry, The Family China.  The event culminated with a smashing of china, a symbolic act representative of the “messiness of human relations, migration, loss and death, and the impulse to build anew.”  In order to give this performance the justice it deserves, I encourage you to watch this short video depicting the poignant themes behind the project, including the widespread female desire to break free of “traditional women’s roles and expectations…and of the little worlds we create for ourselves.”

Anne Green with Ann Shin

Ann Shin (left) with Anne Green (right)

To present the 2013 award to Ann Shin gave WordFest Founding Creative Director Anne Green great pleasure.  Green, who attended the event, was surprised by how satisfying it was to hurl a very ugly blue and white fake Wedgwood rose bowl on to the cement floor and watch it smash to smithereens.  “I always hated that stuff,” she says.

She expressed big thanks to the donor whose gift makes it possible to promote artistic works that “explore and challenge traditional forms of story and narrative,” and to the Festival Board for choosing to manifest this with an award in her name.  Current Festival Director Jo Steffens agreed that it was fun to hit her seemingly random, ugly object just right and watch it disintegrate.  “It felt a bit like bowling somehow,” she said, “satisfying in the way that getting rid of stuff is satisfying but with a little more finality to it.”

Death Match host Adrian Todd Zuniga - Amazing

Death Match host Adrian Todd Zuniga – Amazing

Onward to the evening’s feature event, Calgary’s inaugural Literary Death Match (Episode One!) held at Festival Hall in Calgary’s historic Inglewood.  Fair to say that I’ve attended a significant number of literary events in my life thus far.  I’ve even hosted a solid number of them myself, and I’ve got to admit—Death Match host Adrian Todd Zuniga raises the bar!  I’ve never witnessed a more energizing, animated, funny and spirit-lifting MC.  “Be alcoholic and enjoy literature at the same time,” he shouted at the outset of the night.

Imagine Canadian Idol or So You Think You Can Dance, but for writers performing their work.  The show featured authors Todd Babiak, Lisa Moore (currently nominated for both Giller and Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize), Alan Silberberg and D.W. Wilson.  Each author read their work or told a story sans notes.  The four competing authors were then rated by a panel of three judges: Ophira Eisenberg, Will Ferguson and David Macfarlane.

Lit Death Match Todd Funny

Every performer and judge had the house laughing, perhaps especially Todd Babiak whose hilarious performance about his childhood writing (a story about a murderer vomiting back up the victims he’d killed, intact and alive) had me in stitches, and Will Ferguson, who explained one of the judging guidelines states, “Don’t be a jerk.”  Going on to say, “I can’t work under these conditions.”

The event concluded with D.W. Wilson narrowly out-guessing co-finalist Lisa Moore by a score of 8-7 in a rambunctious game of Canadian Lit Pictionary to win Wilson the LDM “Calgary Crown.”  I’m already looking forward to Calgary’s next Death Match, a concept that is pumping a competitive hilarity into the traditional book reading.

Ahoy Dear Skippers, we’re off to the Wednesday Night Showcase where alongside the sizzling lineup—Todd Babiak, Andrew Pyper, D. W. Wilson and Michael Winter—one of my best friends and brilliant wordsmith, Katherine “Kat” Main, will receive the Brenda Strathern Late Bloomers Prize for her writing, presented by the Calgary Foundation.  Go Kat!

See you ALL at the BALL, my Friends.

A funny moment captured at Calgary's inaugural Literary Death Match as juror of "literary merit" Will Ferguson delivered his remarks.

A funny moment captured at Calgary’s inaugural Literary Death Match as juror of “literary merit” Will Ferguson delivered his remarks.

Samantha Warwick
 is the author of the novel Sage Island (WordFest artist 2008 + 2009).  Her nonfiction and poetry have been broadcast on CBC Radio and appeared in various literary and commercial publications including Geist, Event, Room, filling Station, The Globe & Mail and FASHION.  Samantha is the Official WordFest Blogger for 2013, and moderator of “Afternoon Delight,” featuring L. Marie Adeline and Ophira Eisenberg on Saturday, October 19. 



Filed under 2013 Festival Blog

3 responses to “Don’t Be a Jerk? I Can’t Work Under These Conditions, says Literary Death Match Judge Will Ferguson

  1. Will Ferguson

    Hi Sam
    I didn’t really say hi to you properly at the Literary Dearth Match thing last night. Sorry about that. I’ve been spaced out lately. (Too many balls in the air.)
    Hope all is well.

  2. samanthawarwick

    Will! No apologies necessary – you were a terrific juror for the event – so funny and entertaining. I just finished loading a few more photos into the post and one of them shows you delivering your remarks. Hope to see you soon. Cheers!

  3. Loved the Death Match and will work for nearly nothing (as per usual) to help get it to Toronto. Great article!

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