On Literary Fiction and Radical Music

Posted by Tobias Carroll

Last Sunday, a combination of topics and questions raised during two panels at the Brooklyn Book Festival got me thinking about one particular intersection of music and literature. This is more of a question (or a request for information) than anything else.

One late-morning panel included Justin Taylor and Jennifer Gilmore, both of whom have released acclaimed novels that at least touch on punk subcultures — whether anarchist communes or straightedge hardcore. Eleanor Henderson’s Ten Thousand Saints delved into the world of New York hardcore (see our discussion of “punk fiction and punk novels), and a few years ago, Jeff Parker’s Ovenman followed the life of a Floridian punk and pizza-maker. All of these books fall under the heading of well-received literary fiction taking a cue from the politics of punk rock. I’ve enjoyed Taylor and Parker’s books; there’s a charge to them, a smart way of dealing with art & politics. (I’m hoping to get to Henderson’s and Gilmore’s novels in the months to come.)

A few hours later, at a panel focusing on histories of particular musical movements, Marcus Reeves discussed hip-hop’s roots in radical politics. Which begs the question: has there been a strain of literary fiction that occupies a similar place relative to hip-hop to the one that the novels mentioned above do relative to punk rock? And if not: why?

(Needless to say, for this and several other reasons, I’m curious to read Nelson George’s The Plot Against Hip Hop.)