I attended the Loft’s “Ultimate Master of Words” competition with a dual sense of obligation: first of all, how does a person running a site devoted to literary happenings not attend an event so “literary” and so “happening”? Second, the $10 cost of the ticket to this event doubled as a Loft membership fee–and how does a writer and editor living in the Twin Cities not have a membership to the Loft until now!?! Of course I value what the Loft brings to the Twin Cities, and of course I benefit from their programming and community-building. I feel legit shame that it’s taken this long, counterbalanced by the relief/pride that I now, finally, belong. But as for the actual event, The Ultimate Master of Words turned out to be, well, really fun. I wasn’t blown away, per se, by the literary prowess. I wasn’t inspired to go home and write–I wasn’t inspired to go home and read. But I smiled a lot, and laughed a lot, and I didn’t want to be anywhere else the entire time.
Much of this had to do with emcee Jeff Kamin (of Books & Bars, and also the emcee of past few Minnesota Book Awards Galas) and his high-octane schtick. He’s a gifted performer and improvisor, and he was cast perfectly for this event–keeping the momentum moving even when the event itself stuttered (built into the structure of the contest were minutes-long pauses in which the contestants conjured their material…) and suffered a few technical difficulties that might have train-wrecked other events. These minor obstacles only allowed Kamin to weave his lackadaisical charm more thoroughly into the fabric of the show.
In his introduction, Kamin declared that “no one has ever seen a game like this before. Unless you’ve played Balderdash.” Not the most original conceit (writers make up fake definitions to real words), the ingenuity of the event came in structuring the competition as a bracket, a-las March Madness. The first round consisted of four pools of three writers, from each of which one winner was chosen. Of those four winners, two competed for one spot in the finals, the other two for the other. Words like “mulligrubs,” “swallet,” “pogonotomy,” and “farctate” were ascribed variously charming, long-winded, or venereal definitions, and the contestants were whittled away until only Sally Franson and Emily Weiss remained.
Weiss earned her spot in the finals by defining a word as, “losing this round to Sarah Stonich because I’m a little more drunk than I was in the last round,” which, ironically, won Weiss a trip to the finals. But it did note the tangible decline in sobriety as the night wore on… the Loft was courteous in its libations, and most of the audience seemed to have partaken liberally. This made for a lively, rather raucous atmosphere (for a room full of book nerds), but did also tamper the momentum of the contest just a bit: wit slipped toward pandering, creativity toward heart-on-sleeve goofiness. In the final round, the three judges (who were, along with Kamin, largely responsible for the evening’s light-hearted atmosphere: Marianne Combs, Lorna Landvik, and Anatoly Liberman each stole the spotlight at all the right times and in peculiar, eyebrow raising ways…) had to deliberate for quite a while before deeming Emily Weiss the winner–her prize: the title of Ultimate Master of Words and a limited edition print from Hazel and Wren reading “A Smithy of Words Am I.” Her winning definition: “Lethologica: the brand of shampoo and conditioner that claims it will wash away your white guilt.”
In a charming twist to conclude the evening, anyone who had accurately filled out a bracket printout, which the Loft had circulated at the outset, was eligible to win a gift bag of mystery prizes. Only one person guessed all of the outcomes correctly, and it turned out to be Emily Weiss’s mother Shelly, who was on hand to support her daughter. What a haul. (FTR- I had Sierra DeMulder, who was ousted in the first round.)
This peculiar and niche-focused event likely resulted in a lot of new members to the Loft (such as myself, with aforementioned shame), which was certainly one of its aims. But it also reminded us what a fixture the Loft is in the local literary tableau. This was not a celebration of literature, nor even a celebration of words. It was a celebration of that special thing we have here in the Twin Cities, that community we comprise, which I might define as “composed of individuals who love ideas, and who love the ideas of others, and the idea of others who love others’ ideas, and the idea of loving others’ love of ideas. Also, books.”
Were you There? Have something to add, or a different take on this event? Chime in on the comments below, or send us an email at LitSeen.Mpls@gmail.com! Be sure to check the schedule to the right and the Twin Cities Literary Calendar and be at the next LitSeen attended event. See you around!