Let's talk about the victory of a Hugo Award from the well-known fanfiction Archive of Our Own (AO3). Why is it so important?

The assignments of the Press Hugo, during the Dublin WorldCon. Among the many award-winning talented authors and authors, however, a novelty stands out. In fact, among the winners there is also a fanfiction site, Archive of Our Own, also known as AO3.

What did he win and why? And why is this victory important and positive for all of us fans?

The simple Archive of Our Own site
The simple Archive of Our Own site

Archive of Our Own (AO3): a quick overview

Founded in 2008 by Organization for Transformative Works, this archive is the expression of the policy of this non-profit organization, which encourages the production of material created by fans. This material (i fan-works) is called a product of participatory culture, in which the public is an active user of the works he watches / reads and interacts with them, transforming them creatively.

The Organization for Transformative Works offers legal support to fans who produce material inspired by original works. In addition, he collaborates with participatory culture scholar Henry Jenkins and runs a peer-reviewed academic journal, Transformative Works and Cultures, in which studies on fan works and participatory culture are published. The next issue of the magazine will be published in September and one will be published in December special dedicated to the relationship between fanfiction and ancient religious texts.

Archive of Our Own is the most popular fanfiction archive of recent years, with 4.8 million stories e 2 million users sign in. The fanfictions on Archive of Our Own cover approx 33.000 fandom and are classified according to a complex, but very transparent series of tag. In this way, it is possible to search for fanfictions starting from the reference fandom, from romantic couples, from the characters, from the themes present or from the rating. You can find on Archive of Our Own fanfiction with all kinds of themes (as long as it is explicitly reported), since the management opposes the censorship of fanfictions.

The trophy earned by Archive of Our Own at the Hugo Awards
The trophy earned by Archive of Our Own at the Hugo Awards

Hugo Award for the best work related to the field of fantasy

The Hugo Prize for the best work related to the field of the fantastic (Hugo Award for Best Related Work) is a prize that goes to the best non-narrative fantasy or science fiction work during the Hugo Awards.

The Hugo, in fact, are generally considered to be the most prestigious awards in the fantasy / science fiction world, together with the Nebula awards. This award is named after the founder of the science fiction magazine Amazing Stories, Hugo Gernsback, and was first established in 1953. Hugo are organized by the World Science Fiction Society and they are a prize for the best fantasy / science fiction works. Voters are members or participants of the World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon).

The Hugo Awards currently have 15 categories of awards, including Best Novel, Best Short Novel, Best Drama, Best Fanzine and Best Artist. Among them, the award for the Best Relevant Work category is an evolution of the previous Best non-fiction book, established in 1980.

Among the Winners of this award stand out many encyclopedias of the fantastic and / or science fiction, biographies or autobiographies of science fiction authors, and essays on the subject. After two years in which no nominated work had been judged worthy of the award, in 2017 and 2018 Ursula K. Le Guin won twice. Now, in 2019, the award has gone to the Organization for Transformative Works, awarded for the construction of Archive of Our Own.

The results of the vote in the Hugo Award statistics
The results of the vote in the statistics of the Hugo Awards

Archive of Our Own's victory

Archive of Our Own won the award by beating the essay by Ursula Le Guin and David Naimon, Conversations on Writing, with 985 votes against 811. The prize was collected by the co-founder of the site, Naomi novik, which in turn was nominated three times for the Hugo Prize for best novel.

Novik, incited anyone between the public had written and published fanfiction on AO3 to go with her on stage, since the victory belongs to all of them. In fact, according to Novik the work of the Organization for Transformative Works would not have been possible without the fans who contributed to their archive. Are the fan creators who share their works for free with other fans and readers who consume and review these works to keep the community alive.

All fanwork, from fanfic to vids to fanart to podfic, centers the idea that art happens not in isolation but in community. And that is true of the AO3 itself

The Archive of Our Own award at the Hugo Awards
The Archive of Our Own award at the Hugo Awards

What does the Archive of Our Own victory mean for fanfiction writers?

As is well known, fanfictions as we know them today date back to the times of Star Trek. Mostly written by housewives, trekkers were also the first to write slash stories, that is love stories between two men, despite the homophobia of the time.

The hard life of fanfictions

However, the rewriting and reinterpretation of the stories it is typical of many human cultures, since a work is never received by readers / listeners in a passive way. Each spectator relates to the stories differently, seeing different morals and identifying with particular characters. As time passes and the culture changes, the reception of the work also varies. But there are also re-elaborations of readers / writers who want to add something of their own to a story already known. This was the case with historical works of enormous importance, such as theAeneid which, in fanfiction terminology, would be one Alternative Universe - Canon Divergence dell 'Iliad.

However, fanfictions have always had a difficult life. They have often been opposed by the authors of the original work, who (Anne Rice above all) feared copyright infringement. But not only that: authors like George RR Martin feared that the fanwriters would write what would turn out to be the final of the work. This in fact would have made it impossible for the original author to prove that he did not copy from the fanwriter. Although we hope that no fanwriter has written a bad ending like that of Benioff and Weiss.

Furthermore, within the fandoms themselves, many fans negatively judge fanfictions, considering them a silly pastime, as young girls. This is not unrelated to the fact that most of the fanfiction authors are actually authors who write mostly romance. Hence the stereotype that sees fanfictions as mere pornography written by women for women.

If you published a fanfiction on Archive of Our Own, you contributed to the victory of a Hugo Award!
If you published a fanfiction on Archive of Our Own, you contributed to the victory of a Hugo Award!

Archive of Our Own's victory as a validation of fanfiction value

However, the Hugo Award for Archive of Our Own show that fanfiction and the creation of a space to host them are one important component for the fantasy / science fiction community. This victory goes to both the site programmers and the fanfiction authors.

In fact, although they are works produced by non-professionals, fanfictions are works that are the result of work and creativity, which de facto I'm a criticizes (in the constructive sense of the term!) to the original work. By reworking the themes, the lore and the relationships between the characters, the fans converse with the original work, expressing an opinion on it. Only, this opinion is conveyed by a rewriting of the work, that is, by a work of transformation and reinterpretation.

The fanfictions as criticism of the works

For example, does a fanwriter write a fanfiction in which Harry Potter changes his position in the Magical World because he is helped by the Gringotts Goblins? With this narrative, the fanwriter underlines a lack in Rowling's worldbuilding, which makes little use of the potential of history, culture and magic of the other races.

Much of the contemporary critique of fantasy / science fiction works owes much to the reworking of fanfictions (we think only of the critical to the Rowling!). In fact, fanfictions are a perfect ground to give voice to all minorities who love books, movies and popular TV series, but find it hard to review themselves. Where do you think black Hermione first appeared? But in fanfictions and fanarts, of course, where black authors explored how this race-bending could influence the narrative of Harry Potter. And, remember, Rowling has always supported the creation (not for profit) of fanfiction and other fan material.

Fanart of Harry Potter of Batcii
Fanart of Harry Potter di Batcii

Archive of Our Own as protector of fanfictions

But these stories and criticisms could not exist and be shared, without a platform to host and protect them. Archive of Our Own does exactly that, giving a space to publish the stories and offering legal support to defend them. In fact, as long as they remain free, fanfictions do not infringe any copyright and are part of the US Fair Use.

Thanks to this victory, Archive of Our Own shows that its commitment to the conservation, cataloging and study of fanfictions has been important for our community. It also defends fanfictions and those who write them from stereotypes and the stigma that they were sewn on them.

De facto, Archive of Our Own is a safe haven for fanfiction writers and wants to test their narrative and critical skills. Having virtually no limits on published content (as long as they are correctly and clearly tagged!), AO3 offers more freedom and security than many other platforms. In many ways, it is a safe space for writers.

On Archive of Our Own you are sure don't get censored for what you write, even if you produce a problematic work. At most, one can be criticized or ignored by those who do not appreciate certain issues. But we will never have the arbitrary deletion of all homoerotic stories, like on Livejournal, or of all stories with sex scenes, like on Fanfiction.net, or with extreme bondage, like on Erika's Fanfiction Page.