Both The Terrain and The Map A Story About Tracy Walker

Stories, like cartography, help us navigate landscapes, and yet they are often the landscape itself. Stories are both our terrain and our map.

I grew up fascinated with storytelling. In elementary school I would watch a film over and over until I could quote the dialogue by heart and hum its orchestral theme throughout the day. As a teenager, I delightfully (and to the chagrin of my friends, I’m sure) compared others’ real world experiences and struggles to the archetypal hero's journey. As an adult, I can see now that what truly fascinated me was not just the story itself, but the return to the story; I liked approaching themes and ideas from a variety of angles.

My path has always been interdisciplinary and so my stories are multi-modal. Clockwise from Top Left: UNC-CH Master's Thesis production, Authentic Chameleons (writer/adapter/director); UNC-CH/Icarus Studios hybrid video game/theater collaboration, sponsored by the CHAT Festival (assistant director); Catwalk Countdown, a choose-your-own-adventure style video game (producer, story editor, writer); Duke TIP's Creative Writing: Adventures Through Time film shoot and educational course (story editor, assistant director);

The stories that pull me in and keep me lost - in the happy way - are the ones that arc towards social justice. The ones that help us better understand lived experiences today. The ones that imagine new futures.

Authentic Chameleons: Mythic Identity, Performative Trickster-ing, and the Potential of the Telephone Booth Moment

The end product of my Master’s degree in performance studies at UNC-Chapel Hill was both an academic paper and a staged theatrical piece. I wove theories of cultural studies and oral history into an adaptation of Superman comics and West African Yoruba myths. I used visual elements, sound, light, and choreography to explore what it means to possess more than one identity.
I began with an image: the phone booth from Superman comics. I did a close reading of the American mythic aspects of the Superman story and argued that the phone booth, as seen in Superman, is a liminal space - a space of both/many identities. I proposed that if we read Superman as an American myth, this key element of the hero's life could be read as a lived phenomenon made concrete. How do we use our daily phone booths and who has the most need of them?
Next, I examined the Eshu myths of the Yoruba canon from West Africa and found in him an ur-figure of identity fluidity and transformation. Eshu is a messenger between the human world and the gods. Eshu, as a trickster, plays with trust and secrets and honesty. His myths hold that there is power in liminality.

In both of these stories, I saw trickster figures, even though the shapeshifting means accomplish different ends.

Superman’s secret identity is a protective measure employed for survival, and yet it allows him to see, do, and speak from a type of intersectionality, at least in some cases. Kal-El would never have become Superman without Clark’s experiences, and Superman, like a trickster, helps humanity understand its failings and opportunities through a hybrid human-alien perspective. I wondered how this use of shapeshifting, this particular flavor of trickster-as-hero, might be rooted in the American psyche as an American myth, and how it might help illuminate the multiple identities - and identity management - in the lived experiences of minorities in our country.
Life at the crossroads.

I argued that both stories are about the power of identity play and transformation and, as such, both types of tales work as structures we can use to understand and illustrate the liminal spaces minorities both live in and survive through on a daily basis. We carry our own telephone booths. Our subjectivity exists at the intersections (or at the crossroads) of society, in performative acts that are both survival tactics and heroism.

As a Continuing Studies student at Duke in Spring of 2016, I completed a research project on #geekgirls that charted the history and varied uses of the hashtag across social platforms from 2009 to present day. Last fall my graduate independent study project in Visual and Media Studies revolved around geektvisim as a digital social movement. I plan to continue examining and talking about transformative works as a new form of storytelling and the role of such works within geektivist campaigns.

Fans, as both consumers and producers (or, as Henry Jenkins says, “prosumers”), continue the threads of beloved stories by reworking them through their own creative and productive means. I call these transformative works “bent narratives” because, to me, fans bend stories to their will.

My blog, Bending Narratives, hosts my case studies of those transformative fanworks that I believe create room for more diverse stories and characters. These works are acts of political creativity and remix activism. Many of these fanworks generate momentum and followers through social media campaigns that I track over time.

As an academic and a fan, I’ve been invited to contribute to panel discussions at science fiction and fantasy conventions on the topics of diverse representation in geek media and whitewashing across both media and literature. I have been working with a local fan group to develop a “Bechdel Test” for diversity, so that we can better critique our favorite stories and challenge content creators' missed opportunities. I love "con space" and the dialogues that are supported there, and would love to share those experiences with StoryLab.

I am passionate about narrative as both an object of study and a form of analysis. I find the most remarkable details through the process of adaptation, and so my projects are typically adaptations, remixes, and re-envisionings. I keep returning to these themes of mutability and transformation.

As a lifelong student, I am driven by questions. The question that is most critical to me in this moment in our history is: How must our most fantastic stories operate in order to propel us, as storytelling creatures, as a society, towards diverse and progressive futures?

Thanks for your consideration of this application submitted for the Spring 2017 Duke StoryLab Fellows Program.

Tracy Walker

Writer. Director. Producer.

Telling, Bending, and Finding Stories at twalker@tip.duke.edu

Credits:

Created with images by armadano - "Whitetop afternoon" • Pexels - "dirt road forest landscape" • GoodNCrazy - "A phone booth? Srsly?" • istolethetv - "Action Comics 866" • claire1066 - "crossroads"

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