In case you missed the news, Archive Of Our Own (fondly known as AO3) took home a 2019 Hugo Award for Best Related Work on Sunday, and it’s a really big deal. In April, the site’s nomination lit up the internet, as 4.7 million pieces of fanfiction and their authors were all simultaneously nominated for one of the highest honors in the sci-fi/fantasy world.
For those who don’t know, AO3 is a fanfiction archive founded by the fan-run, non-profit Organization for Transformative Works (OTW). The organization is comprised of thousands of members, as well as several hundred volunteers, who seek to protect, preserve and defend the legal right for fan works — like fanfiction, fan art, et al — to exist. OTW was founded in 2007 in response to corporate exploitation of fans and fan works. Until its creation, fanfiction was housed primarily on sites like Fanfiction.net, LiveJournal, and FanLib — making creators vulnerable to purges, takedowns and worse, despite their “transformative” works being totally legal under Fair Use in US copyright law.
Now, the archive — which has remained by and for fans since it was in its invitation-only beta mode in 2009 — has a Hugo Award, which not only celebrates fandom culture and its power, but also legitimizes it. Given that fanfiction is most often written by creators of marginalized genders who are young and queer, this win not only celebrates and embraces fandom, but legitimizes transformative works on a stage that has honored some of fanfiction’s most vocal haters (including George R.R. Martin, who has a whopping eight Hugo wins and 15 nominations under his belt).
The Archive Of Our Own’s impact was made especially visible when, while accepting the award for Best Related Work, its creators asked for the lights to be raised so the community could stand and co-accept. Per Hugo Awards attendee Benjamin Rosenbaum, at least half of the auditorium stood up, including several nominees from other categories.
@archiveofourown, accepting their Hugo, ask for the lights to be raised & for its community to stand & co-accept.
Half the auditorium stands up, including a lot of the nominees in other categories.#HugoAwards
— Benjamin Rosenbaum (@ben_rosenbaum) August 18, 2019
As noted by Aja Romano for Vox in April, the Hugo Awards have been undergoing a decade-long period of progressive reform to become more inclusive, as part of a broader movement within speculative fiction. Although 2019 marks AO3’s first nomination (and win!), the Awards also recognize podcasts like Fangirl Happy Hour and Be the Serpent; the former dives into the intersections of fandom, literature and culture, while the latter frames fanfiction as a speculative literary tradition, critiquing and analyzing it as such.
Additionally, since 1967, the Hugos have presented the award for Best Fan Writer to creators whose sci-fi- or fantasy-related works appeared in low- or non-paying publications, including fan zines and, yes, fanfiction archives. This year, popular blogger, fantasy novelist and poet Foz Meadows took home the prize.
Ultimately, fandom is the backbone of speculative fiction, which is illustrated by AO3’s massive numbers. As mentioned above, as of 2019, the archive boasts more than 4.7 million works in 30,000 recognized fandoms across 11 broad categories. The site has more than 1.8 million users writing and reading fanfiction, in addition to leaving “kudos,” bookmarking their favorites, sending links to their friends and sharing on social media. The site averages nearly 200 million views each month and sits neatly in the top five literary sites, according to SimilarWeb.
Before E L James took the world by storm when she turned her Twilight fanfiction Master of the Universe into a multi-million dollar book trilogy in 2011, AO3’s founders recognized the importance of and sought to preserve fanfiction and other transformative fan works. Now, they’re finally getting the recognition they deserve, as are the millions of fans who pour their blood, sweat, and tears into creating transformative works that celebrate their favorite fandoms, day in and day out, not for the money, but for the love of their craft and the community it creates.