The Organization for Transformative Works is celebrating its 10th anniversary because thousands of fans have supported it through donations over the years. And while direct donations are the most helpful form of support (which can be made at any time of the year) there are other ways to help. You can:
- check with your workplace to see if they’ll do corporate matching of donations
- if you use Amazon in the U.S. for purchases, sign up to Amazon Smile and select the OTW as your charity of choice.
But probably the most fun way is to purchase one or both books whose royalties support the OTW! Below, three of the OTW’s founding members — Kristina Busse, Karen Hellekson, and Francesca Coppa — from our Transformative Works & Cultures committee discuss the books they edited: The Fanfiction Reader: Folk Tales for the Digital Age and The Fan Fiction Studies Reader.
What do you see as the unique appeal of the book you worked on?
Kristina: A big problem for any young discipline is the lack of shared knowledge. In early fan studies essays — all the way into the mid-2000s — everyone had to explain terms and describe the community, often at the expense of more in depth and differentiated arguments. Karen and I envisioned our 2006 collection Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet as a way to move forward the conversation by starting from a shared place: our introduction offered a definitional framework and theoretical context, and Francesca’s “A Short History of Fandom” narrated a version of our fannish history that most of us contributing to the issue recognized as our own.
Likewise, Transformative Works and Cultures asks our contributors to build upon existing fan studies research that is assumed to be shared and known. At the same time, many of the essays that build this foundation and are regularly cited are difficult to find. In The Fan Fiction Studies Reader, we collected in one place some of the most often referenced essays and scholars. We framed these texts with extensive essays to explain their place in fan studies’ history while also pointing toward more current research that expands upon these earlier works.
Francesca: The Fanfiction Reader literally is a unique book — it’s the first collection of fanfiction stories published AS fanfiction (that is, not filed off like 50 Shades of Gray or written about works in the public domain, like fic in the Jane Austen-verse.) It’s OUR sort of fanfiction: fanfiction of currently active franchises like Star Wars, Doctor Who, MCU, etc.
It’s also very much an OTW project in that it furthers two aspects of the mission that have been part of OTW’s agenda from the start: strengthening our legal rights around fanfiction by exercising the muscle of fair use — the book argues that the stories within it are transformative works, and so legal to professionally publish in this particular context — and helping to legitimize fanfiction as an art form in terms of making it easier to study (because the book is first and foremost intended for classroom use.) Bonus agenda: the book will hopefully keep random students from trolling the internet looking for fanfic because they were assigned to do so and possibly bothering or othering fans (as happened in the Berkeley case not too long ago.) It also gives instructors a series of teachable stories to use in classroom assignments.
Kristina and Karen’s book The Fan Fiction Studies Readercollects essays from over the last forty years that have been important to fan studies and the study of fanfic in particular — never again will people have to start with “What is fan fiction?” like nobody’s ever written about fanfiction before. In fact, there’s an amazing body of work out there, and in this reader we collect some of the most important pieces in one place, essays by people like Joanna Russ, Henry Jenkins, Constance Penley…
Karen: Francesca is right: The Fan Fiction Studies Reader brings together, in one place, many of the texts foundational to fan studies. Editing this book was so much fun: we couldn’t get everything we wanted (because EXPENSIVE and LENGTH), but we got enough to create a book that fan studies acafans (and not just fan fiction acafans, despite the book’s title) can use in classes. The essays in the book can be shuffled around to create any number of organizational structures. Any class that uses this book plus Francesca’s book would have the synergy of the theoretical and the primary.
What part of the book do you find yourself most often quoting to others?
Karen: The introduction. I get excited about each of the sections we created within the book, with its particular focus and with its particular scholars (and headnotes for each section link the essays together to show why each selection is important in the field of fan studies, and how awesome is it that it is a field!), but the intro really lays it all out and shows the big picture. I just lent the book to a friend of mine who is completely new to fan fiction and fan studies, and I told him to read the intro. It should answer the basic question “what is fan fiction [or any fan text], and why is it important?,” but it should also provide a background to fans who are coming at it from the other end: they are embedded in the fan world, but they want to know how academic discourse deals, and fan fic meta deal, with the field.
Francesca: I’ve been excerpting passages from the book on my Tumblr and I’m kind of shocked, but one of them has gotten something like 20,000+ likes/reblogs. It’s this bit here, from the introduction to Brancher’s great Lord of the Rings fic, “They Say of the Elves”:
While many people think fanfiction is about inserting sex into texts (like Tolkien’s) where it doesn’t belong, Brancher sees it differently: “I was desperate to read about sex that included great friendship; I was repurposing Tolkien’s text in order to do that. It wasn’t that friendship needed to be sexualized, it was that erotica needed to be … friendship-ized.” Many fanfiction writers write about sex in conjunction with beloved texts and characters not because they think those texts are incomplete, but because they’re looking for stories where sex is profound and meaningful. This is part of what makes fan fiction different from pornography: unlike pornography, fanfic features characters we already care deeply about, and who tend to already have long-standing and complex relationships with each other. It’s a genre of sexual subjectification: the very opposite of objectification. It’s benefits with friendship.
This passage has obviously struck a chord, and it’s because I think fans agree that — even at our most “porny,” certainly at our most explicit and masturbatory — we are still relating to the characters in the story as fully-rounded human subjects. Not for nothing is the worst insult in fandom that a story is about “any two guys” (ATG) — even in a PWP, where the story is nothing but sex, we bring our past history of and with character to bear; we’re choosing to read a story about THAT person as opposed to any other John or Jane.
Do you think the books are of most interest to fans or non-fans?
Karen: Nonfans, I think. We compiled the volume with both audiences in mind, but we published with Iowa University Press, which markets to an academic audience. It’s not like you’ll see this book available for purchase at a science fiction or media con! The structure of the book is designed to help academics create a fan studies type of class. It provides a useful theoretical background, with foundational texts that will never, ever go awry. Fans who are particularly interested in meta, as well as fans who are pursuing MAs or PhDs and who are looking for a fan studies project, will find this book essential.
And I have to admit that part of it was me and Kristina reviewing submissions to the fan studies/media studies journal we coedit, Transformative Works and Cultures. Now when we say rhetorically of authors, “Why haven’t you read X and Y?,” there’s no excuse: it’s all in a single handy volume.
Francesca: I say it in the acknowledgments: The Fanfiction Reader is not for fandom per se, because fandom doesn’t need a reader: fandom has all the fic in the world and all the meta besides! But I think the book is a useful introduction to our sort of fandom for new audiences and especially for students. More and more people are discovering fandom through school, and so fans should have some say in how we’re presented there.
What would you recommend to instructors thinking of using your books in the classroom?
Karen: I would recommend that they take the “fan fiction” part as a metaphor. Really “fan fiction” could be replaced with “fan art” or “fan manips” or “fan GIFs” or “fan Tumblrs” or “fan Twitter feeds,” or whatever. Although it would go very well with Francesca’s volume, the wide, wide Internet might provide useful, current primary-source examples that both support and challenge the book’s themes and organization. And that’s what we want: we want people to say, “Well, but what about THIS?” Indeed! Yes! What about it? Instructors could use our book to organize a class about fan studies and fan artifacts; but they could also use it to challenge the foundational ideas that we lay out. And we say, BRING IT.
Kristina Teaching fan studies and fan fiction is fundamentally different from reading and enjoying it — or even from contributing to it. Whereas within fandom (and among fellow acafans) we can expect a certain fannish osmosis, our students may have very little shared fannish or academic background. That’s where the editorial framework in both books become really important: we create context that allows students to situate and understand the stories and essays. In turn, the essays create a basis to understand more current research and the stories familiarize students with a range of fannish genres, modes, and tropes.
Francesca: Right, I agree with Kristina. I chose really big mainstream Western fandoms for The Fanfiction Reader because you can’t count on students having the kind of shared experiences and ways of looking at texts that you get from being in fandom even for a short time: nowadays, I can’t depend on students even having read the Harry Potter novels or seen Star Wars. So as with other literary studies, you have to understand that you’re joining a community and a conversation that’s been going on before you got there: The Fanfiction Reader is an attempt to open up just a few of the millions of doors that lead into that conversation. And some people will think, “Interesting!” and move on, and some people will want to walk through that door and join us in here.
What would you love to have people remember about the book?
Karen: A great thing about working in fan studies is that people spontaneously e-mail you with remarks like, “OMG I thought I was the only person who considered this stuff valuable! And you edited this book!” So I want people to remember that not only is fan engagement valuable, but it is constitutive of fandom — fundamental, essential. Fans talking to each other = fandom. This book is part of that. By editing this book, we sought to make the conversation transparent and overt, so anyone can join in, be it outside academic or current fan, because it’s all about engagement.
Kristina: The books are both selections, shaped by such random things as the length of the essays/stories and by our own interests and awareness. They are meant to whet the taste for more, to invite the reader to continue in directions that interest them. The books are a celebration of fan fiction and fan studies, a starting point. Just like engaging with any show, film, or book, the gaps are where things happen — more stories, more discussion, more research — a big collective work-in-progress!
Francesca: I want people to see that fanfiction is legal — a transformative fair use that can be published and sold in certain contexts — and also that it’s an art.