Fairy tales hover over the spaces where deepest desires confront the most sobering realities. They encapsulate the intersections of pasts we often idealize and futures we dream up to better reveal our present. Whether we remain enchanted by these narratives or walk away, whether we pass them on to others intact or refashioned, or cling to them like a childhood home, we cannot deny their potency. And like a childhood home, they keep coming back to us, and we to them—familiar, horrific, wondrous, impossible, and already lost in their discovery. We each stand atop mountains of tales—real, fictional, and fictionalized. We each have stories to tell, and in our own ways are curious about the stories of others, happily paying the price of admission.
Growing up surrounded by the south Trinidad cane fields my great grandparents came to work, my favorite book was a collection of Grimm's Fairy Tales. These stories immersed me more concretely in my lived and imagined realities even as they lifted me out. I also relished the tales of my old folk, stories of India carried by ship-brothers bound for a land of sugar inhabited by creatures such as Lajablesse, Lagahoo and Soucouyant. Especially dear was one about a wise and handsome god-king embroiled in the war of royal brothers. Asleep in the cool forest with his feet crossed, the god-king was killed when his own hunter son mistook his twitching toes for the ears of a deer. I would learn later that grandma's fable was her inherited accretion of vernacular retellings of the Mahabharata. She made it hers by interpolating an Oedipal theme that projected her deep fear that her children, hurt by the sour love that nurtured them, would abandon her.
Heads & Tales: An Anthology of Tales was produced over the course of Humanities 243-1: The Fairy Tale, Fall 2019 at The Cooper Union. After introducing this offering into Cooper's curriculum and teaching it twice, I wanted an immediate, tangible way to memorialize the creativity and brilliance of our students. I thus added a further challenge to the established course requirement of creating an original fairy tale: make a physical book of selected tales as well as a digitized collection of all submissions, both with accompanying original artwork. To accomplish this, I had to flip the usual script—tales would be penned early on, and argument-driven analytical exposition would characterize the second half of the semester.
Students embraced the challenge with ingenuity, discernment, professionalism, and grace. They constituted the boards and appointed their heads. They created original stories, determined the selections for inclusion, and designed the accompanying artwork in consultation with the tales' authors. They performed editorial functions, secured and managed funding, and coordinated all the efforts required to create the book and the digital text. The processes used to create this book also transformed fairy tale writing and bookmaking into analytical tools that enriched the investigations of canonical tales and increased sensitivities to textuality, motif, narrative arch, character, context and audience over the course of the semester.
I will let the tales collected in Heads & Tales speak for themselves. Representing a diverse range of voices, they are probing, clever, provocative, consistent in themselves, and illuminating in juxtaposition. It is readily apparent that this is truly a Cooper creation. Storied, rigorous, intimate, besieged, and occupying a place unique in the academic consciousness, Cooper functions in ways evocative of fairy tale: an alluring gingerbread and marzipan house replete with the lessons, trials, frustrations, friendships, and triumphs that inculcate an autodidacticism, self-reliance, and dedication to community that our graduates take to the world.
I did not intend to include my voice in this text. My students determined otherwise, tasking me with the introduction. While I designed this class to culminate in a collection of fairy tales for which I maintained an editorial function and provided global oversight, this book is truly theirs:
Armaan Kohli headed a team of indefatigable editors that included Amy Pan, Timil Patel, Felipe Mapa and William Chen. Editorial worked carefully and repeatedly through all submissions, and determined the selections for the anthology. Where differences existed between my and their editorial opinions, their decisions retained precedence.
Zekiel Maloney oversaw the creation of original artworks working alongside Willa Cosinuke, Oonagh Carroll-Warhola and Johnathan Wilborn, in consultation with the authors. Zeke also designed the page for the digital text.
Dayi Fu led the bookmaking team consisting of Guy Bar Yosef, Kiani Ferris and Dhvanil Shah that designed and constructed the book.
Chief project manager Candy Liu, Shifra Abittan and Carena Toy liaised among all boards, organized funding from HSS Dean Anne Griffin, and secured additional resources and facilities to ensure the book's smooth and timely completion
Yingzhi Hao headed the production unit engaging the expertise of Leart Krasniqi, Jonathan Pedoeem and Yilun Jiang that designed and executed the digital text.
It is offered humbly for your enjoyment.
Harold N Ramdass, PhD
Faculty of the Humanities and Social Sciences
The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Art and Science.