Novel Sounds I: American Fiction in the Age of Rock and Roll | National Humanities Center

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Novel Sounds I: American Fiction in the Age of Rock and Roll

October 14, 2016

Novel Sounds: American Fiction in the Age of Rock and Roll


Richard Thompson in Concert
October 14, 2016 at 8pm
Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill, NC

Keynote Panel

Jonathan Lethem
Greil Marcus
Richard Thompson

October 14–15, 2016 at the National Humanities Center

This conference provides a forum for examining rock and roll as a literary form of expression crucially shaping our national heritage. Panelists will explore the surprising reciprocity between the apparently irreverent form of rock and roll and serious literature. Although the birth of rock dates to the mid-1950s, Novel Sounds examines the relationship as it has been developing since the emergence of the ballad form itself.

The program features rock pioneer Richard Thompson in concert, presented by Carolina Performing Arts at University of North Carolina’s Memorial Hall. Our keynote panel October 15 will feature Mr. Thompson in a discussion with cultural critic Greil Marcus and novelist Jonathan Lethem.

Novel Sounds will be convened by Florence Dore (UNC), a 2008–09 Fellow of the National Humanities Center and author of a monograph series of the same title.

The African American folksinger Huddie Leadbetter, a convicted murderer known as the “King of the Twelve String Guitar,” made an appearance as the “Negro minstrel from Louisiana” at the 1934 Modern Language Association’s annual meetings in Philadelphia. Some eighty years later in 2013, eminent American novelist Michael Chabon was invited to deliver the Blashfield Address at the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Chabon titled his talk “Rock and Roll” (later that year publishing it under the title “Let It Rock” in the New York Review of Books), and in it confessed, “I don’t think I could have learned more about the joy and sensuous appeal of alliteration, assonance, and consonance from any poem of Gerard Manley Hopkins than I did from Warren Zevon’s wonderful line in ‘Werewolves of London’: ‘Little old lady got mutilated late last night.’”

Featured Panels

From Lead Belly’s appearance at the 1934 MLA to Chabon’s apparently cheeky investiture of rock and roll into the canon of American arts and letters, the cultural connections between rock and literature have determined the course of both forms of expression. In discussions that bring scholars, critics, and performers into dialogue, the conference examines the rock-literature nexus in panels on recording technology, the folk, and rock’s link to vernacular African American forms, to name a few. Gathering current strands of research—in digital media, sound studies, and the archive—around rock and literature, Novel Sounds brings core areas of study in the humanities into the public.

Novel Sounds program


  • Mike Allen, Organizer, Stand Against HB2 – NC Musicians United for EqualityNC
  • Michael Awkward, University of Michigan
  • David J. Baker, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Daphne Brooks, Yale University
  • James Revell Carr, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
  • Kevin Dettmar, Pomona College
  • Jennifer Fleissner, Indiana University
  • Mark Goble, University of California, Berkeley
  • Mack Hagood, Miami University, Ohio
  • Jack Hamilton, University of Virginia
  • Todd Harvey, Library of Congress
  • Mark Katz, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Julian Levinson, University of Michigan
  • Eric Lott, The Graduate Center, City University of New York
  • Maureen Mahon, New York University
  • Kate Marshall, University of Notre Dame
  • Mary McBride, The Home Tour (Founder)
  • Charles McGovern, College of William & Mary
  • Karl Hagstrom Miller, University of Virginia
  • Deak Nabers, Brown University
  • Ann Powers, National Public Radio
  • David Shumway, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Gustavus Stadler, Haverford College
  • David Suisman, University of Delaware
  • Bryan Wagner, University of California, Berkeley
  • Gayle Wald, George Washington University
  • Steven Weiss, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Benjamin Widiss, Hamilton College
  • Warren Zanes, Rock & Roll Forever Foundation


  • Department of English and Comparative Literature, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • The Novel Project, Duke University
  • College of Arts and Sciences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Institute for the Arts and Humanities, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Office of Research, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • The Graduate School, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • North Carolina Humanities Council
  • RTI International
  • Wells Fargo
Photo Credits

Richard Thompson in concert by Anthony Pepitone; Greil Marcus by Thierry Arditti; Johnathan Lethem by John Lucas; Richard Thompson by Pamela Littky