English professor links lyrics to literature

By Emily Landgraf

Cover art for The Novelist and The Rapper courtesy of Dr. Hess, designed by alumnus Steve Sachs


The Rider News recently conducted an email Q&A with Dr. Mickey Hess, an associate professor of English at Rider. His recently published book The Novelist and the Rapper became available on March 1, 2012. Hess also teaches Hip Hop and American Culture for the American Studies Program. For a little more insight from the author about the book, the writing process and what he’s working on next, read on.




Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the book?

A: The book is called The Novelist and the Rapper. It’s a collection of hip hop-themed stories and essays, many of which pair a Nobel laureate with a rap star, like De La Soul and William Faulkner, or Isaac Bashevis Singer and Digital Underground.

For the opening story, I took Faulkner’s Nobel Banquet speech and an interview in which De La Soul discusses being sued for sampling another band’s music — I quote them side by side so that it becomes a conversation about where art comes from and what it means to make art. I also sample Colonel Sanders’ autobiography. It was kind of my way to explore on the page what rappers do in their music by weaving together pieces of different texts and using them as materials to create a whole new thing. For example, the book includes a Twitter account made up of entries from the diaries of Lewis and Clark.


Q: What inspired you to write The Novelist and the Rapper?

A: I grew up in Kentucky and was obsessed with hip hop music, and I’ve been a reader and writer since I was in elementary school, so this book is my way to bring those three worlds together and celebrate the way Kentuckians and rappers really keep the English language alive by warping it any direction they choose. Somewhere along the history of American literature, most of the books you see on the shelves at Barnes & Noble stopped doing such interesting things with language.


Q: Does the book fall into a specific genre?

A: I would call it experimental. Writer’s Block, the campus writing club I sponsor, brought poet Kim Gek Lin Short to campus in April, and she defined her writing as experimental because she tends to begin by asking, “How can I do this differently?” I like that definition. It sounds like what I was doing when I wrote this book.

I’ve developed a new course — ENG 313: Creative Writing, Experimental — that lets Rider students explore the history and techniques of this kind of approach.


Q: Are there any particular writers who influenced this novel?

A: I wrote a lot of the stories while I was traveling around the country doing readings to promote my earlier books, and since I was traveling with other writers like Joe Meno and Al Burian, I can see little moments of their styles weave their way into the book. The best thing about doing readings with other authors is that we end up trying to impress each other.


Q: How long did it take you to write The Novelist and the Rapper? What was your writing process?

A: [It took] five years or so to put together the collection as published. A few stories I wrote that long ago, but most of them are much more recent. Plenty of others I dropped by the roadside along the way. I wrote something like 40 stories and put 24 in the book.



Q: Where can students buy the book?

A: Good independent bookstores (and their websites) like Brickbat Books in Philly or Atomic Books in Baltimore. Or, if you like to read on an electronic device, go to my website and you can get the e-book for $5 or a PDF for free. You can also watch a video of me reading the title story with the rapper Traum Diggs beatboxing. As far as we know, it was the first time anyone has read a short story with a beatboxer.


Q: You are on sabbatical for the spring 2012 semester. Is there any particular reason why?

A: Rider was kind enough to offer me a semester away from teaching so that I could work on a new book. I’m actually writing two new books: a new memoir about growing up in Kentucky, and a biography of the rap star Ol Dirty Bastard. I’ll be back to teaching in the fall.


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