Every month or so the OTW will be doing a Q&A with one of its volunteers about their experiences in the organization. The posts express each volunteer’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OTW or constitute OTW policy. Today’s post is with Mel Stanfill, who volunteers as a journal editor for our journal Transformative Works and Cultures (TWC).
How does what you do as a volunteer fit into what the OTW does?
If we think of the part of the OTW’s mission about preserving the “fannish economy, values, and creative expression by protecting and nurturing our fellow fans, our work, our commentary, our history, and our identity,” then what Transformative Works and Cultures does as an academic journal is foster gaining greater understanding of that economy, values, expression, community, history, and identity (and more) by studying it in a scholarly way.
Back when the journal was founded, there was no venue that really specialized in publishing about fan culture or transformative works–people could write about it in various other media studies or internet studies types of journals, etc. but that was dicey because there was much less recognition that this was a valuable field and object of study. So by publishing 37 issues over the years, particularly the peer reviewed articles (though there are also other genres like Symposium essays and Book Reviews that we publish), we’ve both contributed to making that knowledge available (particularly, providing access, which is of course another aspect of the OTW) and also helping form a foundation for people to get published elsewhere too by helping broader academia recognize this area of study.
What is a typical week like for you as a volunteer?
It’s not very glamorous, I’m afraid. I do the initial editorial review of new articles that come in to see if they are ready to go to peer review. When we have something ready to go out, I assign anonymous academic peer reviewers (meaning that the reviewers don’t know the identity of the author whose work they review, and the author doesn’t know the identity of the people who reviewed them) based on the subject matter of the essay.
If some reviews have come back I collate them into an email to the author and emphasize key points for their revision. And then once articles have been revised to the point that the peer reviewers say they are ready to accept, I send them to the production staff who handles things like copyediting, layout, etc. And then there’s a lot of email: from people curious about the journal, reminders for peer reviewers, communicating with guest editors, troubleshooting problems that come up, etc. And I share all of that work with my co-editor Poe Johnson.
You first got involved in the OTW by guest editing issue 15 of Transformative Works and Cultures in 2014. Years later, how did you make the leap to becoming coeditor?
I guess it depends how you count getting involved. I did publish with TWC before that back in 2011. But in terms of moving into a volunteer type role, the special issue was it. And then, how did I get the job? Well I applied when there was a solicitation. But why did I apply? The flippant answer is that former editor Kristina Busse, who is a colleague of mine, had joked a couple of times over the years that she was going to make me take over after her. But when the role actually came open, I applied because I’ve been invested in the field of fan studies for more than 15 years at this point, going back to starting graduate school in 2006 (before, even, with applying to grad school).
So I’ve been publishing in it and supporting new scholars and helping the field grow, and trying to push the boundaries to consider topics that weren’t really studied when I first took them up, like whiteness and labor. Applying to edit the journal was putting my money where my mouth is, in a way, taking on the labor of building the field at a bigger scale. And when I was considering that, I thought about who was somebody who both had a different perspective and interests than me but shared that value of wanting to help the field be the best it could be, and I thought of Poe. And he was interested and we applied and we were picked.
What has been your biggest challenge since becoming TWC coeditor?
In terms of hours spent, the Chinese Fandom special issue that we have coming up in December 2023 has hands down been the hardest thing, because of the challenges of finding peer reviewers who are knowledgeable. Part of the reason to do the issue in the first place was because there’s kind of a bifurcation where the existing work in that area mostly isn’t happening in fan studies or in US-based journals at all, so it’s great that we’re doing it. But we don’t have a ready group of people qualified to review it, so there has been a lot of cold emailing to try to make that happen.
Honorable mention goes to the ways fans sometimes try to drag the journal into fandom fights. That has been particularly contentious about the question of fandom antis, with people trying to use our publications to score points in fandom fights or showing up in our inbox to demand we justify why we published something or explain peer review. We like to be read by fans, but it’s hard sometimes when there’s such a disjuncture between how scholarly publishing works and the everyday stuff fans are doing.
What fannish things do you like to do?
I’m a fan fiction writer and reader when I have the time. And I hang around on Tumblr. As a professor I work pretty long hours so I don’t get to do it as much as I used to, but I do like to when I can.
Now that our volunteer’s said five things about what they do, it’s your turn to ask one more thing! Feel free to ask about their work in the comments. Or if you’d like, you can check out earlier Five Things posts.