Ren Powell's Mercy Island
Two Jerusalem poems

Supporting transformative works

23-29 March 2011 OTW Membership Drive

Longtime readers know that I'm on the board of directors of the Organization for Transformative Works, a nonprofit organization which exists to preserve and protect fans, fanworks, and fan cultures.

I've written before about how fanfiction is like midrash -- exegetical storytelling created in the context of an interpretive community. Where Jews write midrash to explore and explain things which delight or puzzle us about Torah, fans write fanfiction to explore and explain things which delight and puzzle us about all sorts of beloved sourcetexts, from Shakespeare to LOST. The OTW has created a home for fanfiction of all sorts, the Archive of Our Own, "a fan-created, fan-run, non-profit, non-commercial archive for transformative fanworks." If pop-culture midrash is your thing, the AO3 is definitely the place to look -- though it is vast and contains multitudes, so may contain things which aren't your cuppa as well as things which are. That's actually part of what I dig about it: it's like the vast shuk (or souq) of fandom, with stalls featuring everything from bolts of cloth to tin pots to bulk spices... though, unlike any shuk I've ever seen, of course, everything in the AO3 is shared for free.

There are other projects of the OTW which are near and dear to my heart, too: Fanlore, the wiki where we preserve our histories and memories; the journal Transformative Works and Cultures; the Fan Culture Preservation Project, which has already saved thousands of classic zines from the dust bin of history (both literal and metaphoric.)

Maybe what I love most about the OTW is that it is built, and continues to be built, by fans and for fans. In the poem An Horatian Notion (which I once upon a time knew by heart), poet Thomas Lux writes:

You make the thing because you love the thing
and you love the thing because someone else loved it
enough to make you love it.

For me, that's the perfect description of the literary life -- and of life as a creator and consumer of fan creativity -- and of life as a Torah poet, too. We make things because we fall in love with something; we share what we've made, and others come to share our love; and maybe in time others come to add their voice to the tradition, their ingredients to the pot, their creativity to ours. This is why I'm so delighted when my Torah poems spark other people's Torah poems (I'm thinking specifically of Calf, by Dale, though I hope there have been others) or when my posts spark other people's posts. And this is also why I do my best to give back: not only to leave comments where I can, to share stories and poems and posts when I am able, but also to support organizations like the OTW which in turn act to support and protect fans and fanworks so that we can continue sharing what we've made with each other for a long time to come.

The OTW is having its annual March membership drive; if you're so inclined, it's easy to donate online. Here's to many more years of community and creativity.