Most kids dream of growing up in the world of fairy tales, but Veronica Schanoes, an English professor at Queens College, figured out how to do it for real.
Schanoes wrote her own adaptations of classic folk and fairy tales. In her short story, “Ballroom Blitz,” she sets the classic tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” at a punk dive bar in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In doing so, Schanoes makes old stories relevant to a modern audience.
“I have always loved [fairy tales]. I have always been fascinated by stories that have been told over and over again, stories that are able to hold so many different meanings and interpretations,” she said.
Schanoes’ upbringing gave her a broad and diverse perspective of the world.
“I grew up in New York in the East Village back when it was a seedy neighborhood. My mother believed in taking full advantage of the city. She was always taking me to free shows and museums,” she said.
Schanoes was given the unique opportunity to attend the Hunter School, which is a school for intellectually gifted children. She remained there until her high school graduation, then went on to Barnard College.
“Being at a women’s college was a really important experience for me, just to be somewhere where being a women was normal, rather than a sort of deviation from a male norm,” she said.
Schanoes majored in sociology and minored in English and never dreamed she would end up as an English professor. In fact, she originally worked as an administrative assistant at a health care agency. She felt miserable working there and so she quit, deciding she would find her calling.
“My uncle asked me what I liked to do best and I said I like to read books and talk about them with other people. He replied ‘that’s what we call graduate school!’” Schanoes said. “I was delighted in graduate school when I realized that people were still reading and writing adaptations of fairy tales and I could still go on reading and writing them.”
She said that graduates of Ph.D programs in English “go on the market” and are offered positions at universities around the world.
She explained English Ph.Ds have very little control over the jobs they get, if any. Schanoes was offered a position in the English Department at Queens College, a position she held for nine years.
Schanoes found the English Department to be supportive of her work.
“Many departments are skeptical of fields that don’t have the sort of canonical weight of things like the Victorian novel,” she said.
Schanoes identifies as Jewish and, despite an upbringing not centered in Judaism, it recently begun to show up in her work.
“I recently began rewriting fairy tales to center around Jewish concepts and characters,” she said.
Schanoes gives a voice to those in society who without one. She uses fairy tales because they are stories that everyone in society can claim ownership over.
“My writing is focused on telling stories with marginalized and working-class characters, women, and immigrants and changing fairy tale frameworks to fit their stories,” she said. “Reading and writing is an act of creation.”