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

Chapter 4 | A Lengthy Trajectory of Interweavings:
Knotworking English Studies and Fan Activities

Writing and Learning in English Studies

As with other academic fields, reading and writing are central to disciplinary development in English studies. This is especially the case with English studies because, as Wilder (2005) described, it is “a discipline whose object of study consists wholly of written texts” (p. 77). Indeed, the literate activity of English studies centers on the study of various kinds of written (largely alphabetic) literary texts: poetry, drama, short stories, and novels. The broad disciplinary world of English studies can be thought of as being divided into a series of subspecialties focused on particular combinations of genres, time periods, nationalities, ethnicities, and geographies.

Literate activity in English studies is mediated by a series of values, rhetorical conventions, and argumentative strategies for engaging with literary texts (Bazerman, 1988; Fahnestock & Secor, 1988, 1991; Herrington, 1988; Warren, 2006; Wilder, 2002, 2005). Studies of published articles in prominent literary journals (Bazerman, 1988; Fahnestock & Secor, 1988, 1991; Wilder, 2005) and situated studies of professionals’ and students’ reading and writing strategies (Herrington, 1988; Wilder, 2002) have illuminated the values, rhetorical conventions, and argumentative strategies that animate literate activity in English studies. These practices, Wilder (2005) argued, “serve as the almost imperceptible and generally taken-for-granted fibers that hold together this disparate and diverse discourse community” (p. 113).

Scholarship has so far understood the development of learners’ ability to analyze literary texts as a product of their interactions with mature practitioners throughout the undergraduate and graduate curriculum (Herrington, 1988; Wilder, 2002). Herrington (1988) mapped students’ progress toward acquiring the reading and writing practices valued by English majors as a product of engaging with class discussions and the writing they did for an undergraduate literature class. Wilder (2002) also mapped students’ learning the conventions of literary interpretation and analysis as a product of class discussions and the writing they did for the class as professors and TAs passed their values and knowledge of disciplinary conventions on to the students in the course.

We present here a documented narrative (Becker, 2000; Prior, 1998) that partially traces how Kate weaves together her engagements with literary texts with her online fan fiction and fan art throughout high school, then as an undergraduate English major, then as a graduate student in an English studies program, and finally in her professional work teaching college composition. In addition to illuminating four interanimations of English Studies and fan fiction as they are woven together, unwoven, and re-woven across a span of twelve years, the chapter also reveals the multi-mediated genres that texture these interweavings, including the meshing together of alphabetic text (in both print and digital form) with visual images (such as watercolors, like the one depicted above in the banner image, and digital illustrations) and with other artifacts (such as dolls, jewelry, and costumes).

Following a detailed look at the Kate’s extensive involvement with fan fiction and fan art, we elaborate on the extended trajectory of linkages between fan activities and English studies that emanates from her high school English class engagement with Everyman that we outlined in the opening of this chapter, with particular emphasis on the richly dialogic and multimodal nature of the connections.

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