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

Fan Fic-ing Elizabeth Bishop

The weaving together of fan activities and English studies continued to texture Kate’s engagement with the central disciplinary texts she encountered in her undergraduate courses as an English major at the large public university she attended. When she was asked to read The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin for a sophomore literature class, Kate stated that she disliked the ending so much that she wrote an alternative version for herself: “It was so sad that I had to write some other ending to make me not feel so bad about how the book ended, because one of the characters dies.” For a different literature course that same year, Kate also rewrote James Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” based on the plot and characters of Sonic Wings, a Japanese video game she had played. Recounting her experience in a creative fiction-writing course she took during her junior year as an undergraduate, Kate stated, “We were given a story prompt around which we had to base a story. I wrote a short Sailor Moon fan fic based on the prompt and turned that in. I’m pretty sure I told the instructor that it was fan fiction, and she didn’t have a problem with that. I also did some other story assignments using my characters from my other fan fiction.” In re-deploying her fan fiction activities in these ways, Kate continued to recognize her extensive participation in fan fiction as an asset to her engagement with English studies and a key element of the identity she was developing as an English major.

During her senior year, Kate enrolled in a poetry seminar, a course devoted to the explication of mostly canonical poems typically anthologized in publications used for undergraduate survey courses. The course emphasized the reading and analysis of poems, although Kate noted that one strategy the instructor used to get students to understand more clearly how the poems were put together involved having them write their own poems imitating the ones they’d read and studied in class. Drawing upon her extensive history of engagement with fan fiction as she worked on her weekly “imitation” poem to submit to the instructor, Kate stated that she “turned a lot of these poems into fan poems” based on the various popular texts she has been writing fan stories about. One of these assignments invited students to craft an imitation poem based on one of the poems the class had covered the previous week. Kate selected Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Roosters” partly because she loved the sound and rhyming pattern Bishop employed, but largely because a particular line from the poem evoked in her mind one of her favorite scenes from the Sailor Moon anime and manga, two of the fandoms she had read extensively and had contributed a number of fan fiction stories to. According to Kate, Bishop’s line “Get up! Stop dreaming!” reminded her of a scene in which a character named Sailor Saturn is trying desperately to wake up the four sisters—Juno, Vesta, Pallas, and Ceres—known as the Amazon Quartet who have been sentenced to sleep in the jungle until they were needed.

The poem Kate wrote in response to the assignment (see below), which she titled “Juno” after her favorite Amazon Quartet sister and the character at the center of the scene evoked by Bishop’s lines, took the form of a 19-stanza fan poem for Sailor Moon. Set in the dense Amazon jungle, Kate’s poem describes Juno and her sisters sleeping peacefully only to have their dreams interrupted by Sailor Saturn screaming at them to awake and ready themselves to protect Sailor Moon. Her poem borrowed a number of features from Bishop’s “Roosters.” As she explained,

I imitated the rhyme scheme and pattern of syllables, and the tone too. I liked the sound of "Roosters" better than the actual theme. Of course I lifted some lines as well and a few words directly, like the ending where I kept "in" and "friend" and the rhyme, but changed “the sun” to “the moon” and I changed the action performed from “peeking” rather than “climbing” and “grinning” instead of “following.”


In the jungle night
Juno cradled in vines
sleeps away her fright.

Just below
her goddess sisters grow
their innocent power:

the pure dreams of Vesta,
the protective love of Ceres,
the loyal heart of Pallas,

and most
the lonely longings
of Juno.

Once possessed,
Juno and the rest
were terrible at best:

Ceres, deadly skilled magician,
Vesta, like a beast ferocious,
Pallas with the rage of oceans,

and Juno, acrobatic hate machine,
adolescence's frightful dream
shrieking, "I am what I seem!"

Then: Saturn screaming
"Wake up! Stop dreaming!"
Juno, what are you feeling?

You, whom the Romans elected
to be the queen, who rejected
deity to worship the prospective

Moon, young Serenity…
"What right have they to pity
us and tell us how to live,

to reject our nightmares
and wake us here where
we serve in terror?"

Vesta all in red
tossing her proud head
rouses your fighting blood

But abundant Ceres
has of mind the presence,
and all the power of innocence

And now you four
by twos convince each other
and lay aside your warrior feathers.

You are sleeping,
With soldiers' hearts keeping
Still until your lady's gleaming

Moonbeams shine and wake you
And she calls, "Ceres, Vesta, Pallas,
Juno. Now we must go."

In the morning
a green glow is forming
in the Amazon and roaming

the canopy to find
amidst the humid vines
how Juno will be born again.

The moon peeks in,
watching with a small girl's grin
the sleeping forms of her friends.

Reflecting on writing the “Juno” poem during one of our interviews, Kate stated that she felt as if she learned a great deal about Bishop’s poem from this assignment. As she stated,

Writing the poem helped me better understand Bishop’s tone and rhyme scheme because I had to look very closely at those to imitate it. Of course, I saw a lot of her imagery and theme, too, but after all these years, I remember the sound of the poem more than what it was actually about, so I guess that’s what it really taught me.

As she had done with the version of Everyman she had written for her high school English class, Kate decided to visually illustrate her “Juno” poem by creating a watercolor of the opening scene of her fan poem, the moment when Juno is awakened from her sleep in the jungle by Saturn’s screaming (see Figure 3 below). Talking about her decision to use watercolor rather than some other medium, Kate stated, “I used to watercolor when I was a child, and I wanted to try it again. I really enjoyed it, but it takes more effort than using colored pencils or doing digital art.” As she started her watercolor, Kate indicated that she looked at Naoko Takeuchi’s (the author of the Sailor Moon manga) pictures of the members of the Amazon Quartet as a reference for what they looked like. In her watercolor illustration, Kate elaborated some of the features of the scene and the characters that she couldn’t represent as fully as she wanted to in the poem. In her rendition, for example, Kate represented the different colors associated with each character: green for Juno, blue for Pallas, red for Vesta, and pink for Ceres. The visual representation in the watercolor also allowed Kate to represent some of the special powers associated with each of the characters. Pallas, for example, has power over water, so Kate represented her lying in the water. Vesta has power over animals, so Kate represented her in the watercolor with a snake. Kate also included in the watercolor some symbols associated with each of these characters. Each character, Kate noted, is associated with a particular astrological symbol. Kate included those symbols on each character’s forehead. Kate also indicated that usually the members of the Quartet are represented with their hair in very formal, elaborate hairstyles. But, in fashioning her watercolor, Kate stated, “I wanted to draw them with their hair down because I was curious about how they they’d look.”

Figure 3
Kate's Watercolor Painting of her Juno Poem
(Click to Enlarge)

A Watercolor Painting  of Juno by Kate; Click X in Upper Right to Further Englarge the Image

Kate posted her watercolor to the fan fiction site along with her poem and by itself to another website where she commonly sent her fan art as well. Talking about her decision to publish both her poem and the watercolor, Kate stated, “There's not as much fan work for the asteroid senshi as for the main characters of Sailor Moon, so I wanted to share mine. Also, I'm pretty proud of both the poem and the watercolor, although now I could have done the line work of the watercolor a lot better." The author’s note that Kate posted with the watercolor explains that “It's the asteroid senshi from Sailor Moon (better known as the Amazon Quartet): Juno (green), Pallas (blue), Vesta (red), and Ceres (pink). It was based on a poem I wrote for a poetry class in which we had to imitate existing poems.” In this note, Kate overtly acknowledges the connection between this piece of fan art and the literate activity of completing a task for her undergraduate poetry class.

In laminating her engagements with fan activities and English studies, Kate continued to recognize her extensive history with fan fiction as an asset to her participation in English studies and an important element of the literate identity she was developing as an English major. The “Juno” poem and the accompanying watercolor cannot be understood solely in terms of Kate’s fan fiction; rather, it immerses us in an exploration of her disciplinary activity as an English major. Conversely, understanding the “Juno” poem as a response to a classroom implicates us in an examination of Kate’s richly literate life as a fan. We are also struck by the heterogeneous array of representational media that Kate coordinates here, a dense itinerary that includes the Sailor Moon comic, the entextualizations of Bishop’s poem and the fan stories and poems, the watercolor, and perhaps additional representations as well. For example, Kate’s fan activities also included refashioning a set of My Little Pony dolls in the likeness of Juno, Ceres, and Pallas (Figure 4 below).

Figure 4
Kate's Dolls Refashioned as Juno Characters
(Click to Enlarge)

My Little Pony Dolls dressed like Juno, Ceres, and Pallas; Click X in Upper Right to Further Enlarge the Image

One might anticipate that Kate would draw less and less on her extensive experience with fan activities as her engagement with disciplinary texts and activities deepened and intensified throughout her undergraduate years as an English major. Instead, much in the same way that Charles continually wove his experiences with extracurricular journalism into multiple undergraduate courses, Kate responded in the opposite manner, not only finding more and more ways to weave the two together but also submitting some of the resulting texts to fulfill class assignments. The imitation poem she submitted for this class pulls heavily from Sailor Moon, a regular source for her fan fiction stories, as well as characters she had used in other fan fiction stories she had written. And, further, it also functions as a fan poem Kate published on the various fan fiction fandoms for which she writes.

In many ways, then, Kate’s extensive history of knotting together fan activities and her engagement with English studies meant that she came to the disciplinary work of English studies “with a range of choices available to [her], including choices that are far from traditional in appearance, but which nonetheless speak to the circumstances” (Bazerman, 1997, p. 23). For her, these early encounters with English studies throughout high school and college regularly became what Bazerman refers to as “opportunity space[s],” in which activities create “the possibility for spontaneity, attention to local conditions and dynamics, and the introduction of many of the impulses, resources, concerns, etc. that participants bring to the situation” (personal communication as quoted in Medway, 2002, p. 147), in which she could undertake the work of coordinating her interest in fan fiction with her participation in disciplinary tasks. According to Kate, this practice was encouraged by at least some of her teachers. By the time she graduated with her BA in English with a minor in creative writing, Kate’s ongoing efforts to work these literate engagements together resulted in a more or less coherent literate self that reflected her participation in both. The continued development of that self was a key factor in her decision to pursue graduate education.

In the next sections, we elaborate Kate’s interweaving of English studies and fan fiction and fan art at three different points during graduate school. The first interweaving takes place during Kate’s initial semester in an MA program specializing in creative writing. The second interweaving stretches across two literature courses she took during two consecutive semesters spanning her first two years as an MA student. The third interweaving takes place as Kate prepared for her MA exams during her third and final year of the MA program.

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