Expanding Literate Landscapes: Persons, Practices, and Sociohistoric Perspectives of Disciplinary Development. The Case Study of Kate Sharer.

Chapter 4 | A Lengthy Trajectory of Interplays:
Interweaving English Studies and Fan Fiction


While reading Everyman, the late 15th century English morality play, for her English class during her senior year of high school, Kate Sharer (a pseudonym) voluntarily created an alternative version of the original. Kate’s version of Everyman stuck very close to the original lines and language, although, as she stated, she did “update the language some to make it more modern, though I still wanted it to be formal, and to add touches to make it a little humorous.” The key change she made in rewriting the play was switching the characters in the original with characters from a number of her favorite popular culture texts, including movies, anime, and video games. In the version she created, Death’s character is played by Baron DeGhost, a character from The Fantastic Adventures of Unico, a classic anime film from the early 1980s. The Messenger’s character is played in Kate’s version by Fiole, a character in the Sailor Moon anime and manga. The Angel’s character in the original is played in Kate’s version by Louis Saint-Just, a historical character from the French Revolution. Although Kate did not share her version of the play with her teacher, she did share it with some of her friends who were in her class and were also reading Everyman.

Some months later, motivated in part by the large number of favorite characters she had employed in the alternative version of the Everyman play and in part because of a desire to show her friends in the class what the characters she used in her version looked like, Kate created a pencil-and-crayon drawing of all the different characters she included in her version of Everyman, plus some of her other favorite characters (see Figure 1 below).

Figure 1
A drawing of the characters Kate included in Everyman
(Click to Englarge)

Figure 1: A drawing of the characters Kate included in her version of Everyman. Click the X at top right to further enlarge the image.

Having encountered Everyman in their own high school classes, many readers will no doubt recognize Kate’s re-working of the play and the accompanying illustration as a part of the literate activity in which she was engaged as a high school student, a highly motivated student deeply engaged with the course readings and in English language arts more broadly. In this sense, her version of the play and her drawing are just one of the many disciplinary activities that provided opportunities for negotiating a trajectory of participation into English studies, which in Kate’s case eventually stretched into an MA program, then teaching composition at an urban two-year college, and then a PhD program in rhetoric and composition.

And yet, Kate’s reworking of this classic play and her illustration of the characters is also linked into an extensive history of literate activity that extends beyond the presumed borders of English studies. In the same way that Charles’s writing for his undergraduate coursework was linked into his history with vernacular journalism, Kate’s writing and drawing for her high school course are part of her extensive history with creating fan fiction and fan art. The characters are not just from pop culture texts that Kate has read and seen; they are also characters that Kate has written about and illustrated in the various fan fiction pieces she had produced. In fact, some of the characters, such as Rich DeFortier, the character Kate assigned to play the character of Everyman in the original version, weren’t ones she had borrowed from pop culture texts, but rather were Kate’s “original” characters, ones she had created for her fan fiction stories. According to Kate, the characters she had used in remaking Everyman were her “chosen,” a fan fiction term for characters that people are particularly close to and regularly use in the fan fiction they write. As Kate explained, the large number of characters in the original version of Everyman,

gave me the opportunity to use lots of my own favorite characters in it, plus the characters in the original reminded me of some of my own because they had similar personalities. I don't remember it being very difficult since I didn't have to come up with a plot. I just rewrote it line by line, plugging in my own characters.

Elaborating, she stated,

Since everyone in Everyman is a stereotype of a characteristic, I just picked whatever character most exhibited that characteristic. Rich [DeFortier] was Everyman because he really was a sort of everyman in my writing. I don't remember why I picked Fiole for the Messenger, but I know I picked Charlatan for Beauty because he's very vain; Kisa for Kindred because she was Rich's step-sister at the time, although she didn't make it into the current draft of Rich's story I had been writing.

As she did with the wealth of other fan fiction pieces she had created by that time, Kate would eventually publish her version of Everyman on an online fan fiction site.

Like her version of the play, Kate’s drawing of the characters she used is also linked into her extensive engagement with illustrating her fan fiction pieces. Kate had fairly recently begun to draw a lot of the characters in her fan fiction and illustrate some of the scenes they were involved in. According to Kate, the characters are drawn using what she referred to as “‘chibi’ or ‘super-deformed’ style where they’re drawn like kids,” a style featured in many of the popular culture texts she enjoys, especially anime and manga. This is the style of drawing her characters that she had used before. Just as she did with her version of Everyman, Kate would also eventually publish her drawing by posting it on DeviantArt, a popular online fan art site. As she stated, “I did post it on DA for a while, after I had gone back and labeled everybody, just to show people who my favorite characters were and how much my art had improved.” Her version of Everyman and the associated illustration, then, is a palimpsest textured with multiple literate activities and semiotic representations that signals, even if covertly, Kate’s deep engagement with both disciplinary and vernacular texts, practices, and activities.

Kate’s refashioning of Everyman in her senior English class is not her first or only interweaving of fan fiction with English studies. According to Kate, many of her earlier disciplinary encounters with English studies were heavily mediated by her engagement with fan fiction and vice versa. Discussing her sophomore English class two years earlier, Kate indicated that “When we read “The Masque of the Red Death” in tenth grade I wrote a funny play version of it using the people in the class as characters, and when I showed it to the teacher she let us [perform] it for class.” Discussing how individuals’ near and distant histories mediate their present discursive interactions and how such interweavings shape future interactions, Agha (2005) wrote,

We know that anyone who effectively engages in a given discursive encounter has participated in others before it and thus brings to the current encounter a biographically specific discursive history that, in many respects, shapes the individual’s socialized ability to use and construe utterances (as well as footings, stances, identities, and relationships mediated by utterances) within the current encounter; and if the current encounter has any enduring consequences for the individual, these are manifest in (and therefore identifiable only by considering) future encounters in which that individual plays a part. (p. 1)

In this chapter we draw from a study of Kate’s disciplinary and vernacular engagements that collected a wide variety of texts she created over her years as a graduate student and the years following her graduation from her MA program, and that also reached back to the earlier writing she did for her English classes and other writings throughout college and high school. The collection of texts was supplemented by open-ended and text-based interviews. Focusing on Kate’s history of interweaving her fan activities and a range of literate activities in her English studies classes, this chapter elaborates the profoundly dialogic interplay of vernacular and disciplinary literate activities that has prominently shaped the pace and path of Kate’s literate life. Ultimately, we argue that Kate’s fan fiction and fan art profoundly mediate her engagement with English studies, and, likewise, that her participation with English studies figures prominently in her fan activities.

This chapter offers a detailed look at Kate’s extensive history of engagement with fan fiction and then elaborates the dialogic interplay between fan fiction and the disciplinary activities of English studies throughout her high school, undergraduate, and graduate years (a span of seven years), paying particular attention to the multimodal nature of these interweavings, the frequency with which such linkages occur over time, and the long-term implications they have for the production of disciplinary practice and identity.

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