The other day I mentioned fanfiction to my sister, in passing, and she said "...what's that?"
"It's like midrash," I said. "Stories written to explain or explore loopholes or character motivations or what-ifs, only instead of exploring what-ifs about Torah, these are what-ifs coming out of other books or movies or tv shows which we love."
Fanfiction is very like midrash. (Aggadic midrash, anyway -- midrash which explores and tells stories -- as opposed to midrash halakha, which is a primarily legal category of exegesis.) Subscribers to the journal Religion & Literature will get to read me expounding on this subject next year; an essay I wrote, called "Transformative Works: Fanfiction and Midrash," will be published in that journal sometime in 2011. (I'll post about that here when it comes out, since I imagine some of y'all might be interested in it too.)
Fanfiction does many of the same things that midrash does. And, like midrash, fanfiction is the creation of an interpretive community. Just as one midrash responds to another, one fanwork often responds to another. And then fans get together and talk about our stories and our vids and our art, and through those conversations we constitute community.
I'm on the board of a nonprofit organization which serves that community -- the Organization for Transformative Works; some of you may remember my essay On Transformative Works from a few years ago, which talks about my relationship with the idea of transformative work in a variety of contexts, from liturgy to poetry to fandom -- and this week, that org is having our annual October fundraising drive.
Curious? You're welcome to check out some of the things the OTW does, like our communally-authored wiki, Fanlore, which collects our histories, or Transformative Works & Cultures, our academic journal. (There's a full list of our projects on our website.) If you've ever enjoyed a fanvid (like those made by Luminosity, profiled here in New York magazine) or a fan-written story, if you want to support one of the biggest woman-run open source software projects on the internet, if you're interested in educating teens about fair use, we'd love to have your support.