Bringing Fan Fiction into the Classroom: An Interview with Francesca Coppa

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Bringing Fan Fiction into the Classroom: An Interview with Francesca Coppa
Interviewer: Henry Jenkins
Interviewee: Francesca Coppa
Date(s): September 14-21, 2017
Medium: online
External Links: part one

part two

part three
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Bringing Fan Fiction into the Classroom: An Interview with Francesca Coppa is a three-part 2017 interview with Francesca Coppa conducted by Henry Jenkins.

Some Topics Discussed

  • Coppa's book The Fan Fiction Reader
  • "fair use is a muscle that needs to be exercised"
  • issues of fan privacy
  • issues of fanfic legality and visibility
  • tropes, genres, vocabulary
  • fanworks and profit
  • "the boat on Real Person Fic has pretty much sailed"
  • fandom and fanworks as transformative, reactionary, reflections

Some Excerpts

Henry Jenkins: You have edited the first anthology of fan fiction for use in the classroom. Can you share some of the factors that led you to believe that such a collection would be valuable or necessary? In particular, what are the limits or risks of faculty members sending their students to read fan fiction “in the wild”? What kinds of background would teachers and students need as they engage with fan fiction in the classroom?

Francesca Coppa: The truth is, the first person who needed a fanfiction anthology was me! While many students discover fandom on their own - some of my students already have AO3 accounts and are suitably impressed that I’m one of the founders - you can’t count on any group of students sharing a fandom even if they know what fandom is. I tried having students go off and find stories based on their interests, but--well, it takes some expertise to find a good piece of fanfiction if you’re new to it. And then, even if students find stories they like, they have no shared, common experience. So one of my reasons for doing the book was to put together a collection of accessible texts that we could all read together. I picked stories in mega-fandoms that were likely to be culturally relevant for some time. I was also looking for stories that showcased fannish tropes and that would teach well. I tested a lot of fic in my classes at Muhlenberg and also as the Visiting Professor of Television Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. One of the things that I learned was that if a story got too sexually explicit, then that was all the conversation would be about: we just couldn’t get past it. It was like, “I saw Harry Potter’s penis!” Okay, yes, but what else was going on? So while I was committed to putting sexually explicit fanfiction into the book (sex and sexual relationships are such important themes in fic) I also had to choose stories where the sex wouldn’t bring class to a grinding halt.

HJ:You define fan fiction, in part, as “fiction produced outside the literary marketplace.” How is this aspect of the definition changing as more and more fan fiction writing women are going pro or at least being courted as potential Pro writers following the success of 50 Shades of Grey? Does the commercial interest have implications long term for fan fiction regardless of whether any particular writer does or does not want to stay outside the marketplace?

FC: Well, fans have always gone pro, and some fans have always already been pro. What’s new is that more people are willing to admit writing in both worlds. And what we’ve seen is that many working writers also write fic precisely because they want to keep making things outside the marketplace - because it’s fun! Another new thing is the publication of original work that shares some of fanfiction’s literary values and aims to produce a similar range of emotions: I’m thinking about, say, C.S. Pacat’s Captive Prince trilogy (which are much better books than the 50 Shades books, IMO!) While Kindle Worlds was a scam that fans were rightfully wary of, Amazon’s self-publishing arm has let some fans sell their queer science fiction or werewolf erotica. Literary agents (many themselves fans) are soliciting work from their favorite fan writers. I think that’s all great; I’m 100 percent down with fans also writing for the marketplace if they want to, though realistically most things aren’t going to sell because most things just don’t sell.

That said, I am not in favor of commercializing fanwork itself, whether through Kickstarter or Patreon or whatever; that’s the edge I fear, to be honest. I’m not against it for legal reasons - I think transformative works can be sold in certain contexts; witness this book! - but just because I think it’s bad for fannish art and bad for our culture. Money changes things and people make different things for money. Fandom is a place where people work together for love--but it’s different if at the end one person is cashing a check. It can poison relationships. Just to say: it was important to me with The Fanfiction Reader that all the stories remain online as they’ve always been, free to read. The authors didn’t get paid other than a trib copy; I didn’t get paid, either, and I’m donating the book’s royalties to OTW. So it’s a labor of love all around.

HJ: Real Person Slash was once one of the major taboos within fandom. Many had asked me not to mention the genre in Textual Poachers and I kept that trust. But now, it has become widespread and you even include an example in your collection. How do we account for this change? Are there any remaining taboos amongst fan fiction writers?

FC: Yeah, the boat on Real Person Fic has pretty much sailed, at least for overtly performative celebrities: those who seem to be obviously telling a story about themselves through the entertainment media. It’s still not done to show that kind of work to the celebrities in question, though, and fans resent it when non-fans do it on talk shows to have a bit of a laugh at the celebrity’s (or fandom’s) expense. Right now we’re also having a flare up about darkfic, rapefic, and other genres that depict behaviors that everyone agrees are wrong in real life. Some fans tend to feel that any representation of rape, violence, child abuse etc. is wrong; others feel that writing (and even enjoying) these “problematic” genres can be a way of working through personal traumas; still others feel like you shouldn’t have to profess a history of abuse before writing or enjoying what are clearly fantasy scenarios. I’m anti-censorship and pro caveat lector, but I lived through Tipper Gore and the ‘80s and I don’t think sane people do terrible things because of Judas Priest or the Hydra Trash Party. The AO3 provides tools that help responsible people avoid seeing content that disturbs them. That said, this is an argument that probably has to come up in feminist circles at least once every couple of years, and it’s not a bad thing to have it, I guess, just as a moment of community reflection about speech and art and power and responsibility.