Author of Illusion
On stage and on the page, Ursinus College Creative Writing Award recipient, Literary Society president, and longtime illusionist, Anastasia Dziekan ’22 recreates truth with something up her sleeve.
“I’ve been doing magic since I first got my hands on a deck of cards,” Dziekan says. She’s been performing stage magic since she was 7 years old and writing stories since she was 2.
Before Ursinus, she was a member of the Society of Young Magicians, which hosted a big two-act magic show every Halloween.
Meanwhile, Dziekan was publishing miniature books of poetry and short stories in her elementary school’s library. As her writing developed, her magic performances would inform her storytelling techniques.
“A lot of magic is about drawing upon your audience and forming a connection with them,” says Dziekan, “and then subverting their expectations—lying to them, but in a very friendly way.” For her, narrative fiction is a routine between speaker and reader. She enjoys the opportunities for impossibilities.
It was her high school English teacher, an Ursinus alumnus, that told her about Ursinus’s creative writing program and the Creative Writing Award. The then-17-year-old Dziekan thought, “Why not try for it?”
In addition to scholarship money, award recipients get to live in the very same first-year residence that writer J.D. Salinger inhabited in 1938 during his one semester at Ursinus before transferring to Columbia University. The Berman Museum of Art carries a 1963 letter in which Salinger requests a Ursinus course catalogue for his child’s babysitter.
To apply, prospective students, submit up to 10 pages of original creative writing. Dziekan’s included a surreal weather report from the apocalypse.
While her writing samples were fraught with grim forebodings of the apocalypse, though it wasn’t until her first creative writing classes at Ursinus that she discovered her love of horror.
“It’s always been lurking,” says Dziekan. “I just took the plunge.” Between her assignments, studies, and growing involvement in the Ursinus arts scene, she won a fellowship to deconstruct horror movies through a feminist lens.
As a Summer Fellow, she used her findings to write a collection of short stories, each commenting on and subverting a gender trope in horror films. “I wanted to write stories that felt like movies,” she says.
During her eight-week fellowship, she learned how to translate storytelling devices from the screen to the page. “You can’t really jump scare in your writing,” she says, “but you can build suspense, and then knock it all down.” Her collection of short stories, entitled Hysteria, did just that.
“In general, it’s just inspired me in my horror writing to take risks,” says Dziekan, who continues to pull on her findings to break out of horror tropes.
Today, she is the president of the Literary Society, which she describes as “the ultimate in writing community at Ursinus.” Colloquially called “Lit Soc,” the club thrives on its judgment-free and encouraging nature. A central tenant of Lit Soc is that constructive feedback is only fair play when specifically requested by the writer. Otherwise, Lit Soc is simply a place to share and learn more about your strengths as a writer. They meet on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. in Olin Hall, room 104.
The club inspires Dziekan to be “constantly writing and producing,” so she can have something new to read every week. She admits that sharing her latest writing can be nerve-wracking but has been critical to her development as a writer.
“I feel like when we tell stories,” she says, “we’re all trying to say, like, you feel this too, right? You understand this too, right?” For her, the connection between writer and reader is at the very core of storytelling. Lit Soc creates an outstanding space for fostering that connection.
Once a self-described “outsider,” Dziekan now leads the organization. In Olin 104, she cultivates an uplifting, inclusive environment.
“I feel like I’ve really, really come into my own at Ursinus,” she says.
Dziekan has two dreams. She aspires to write horror as a career, across a variety of media—fiction, poetry, scripts—while sharing her passion with future generations of students. She’s currently pursuing teaching certification so she can teach high school English.
“I’ve some really, really great English teachers,” she says, thinking back to people like her first creative writing teacher Mr. Gillespie, who helped her realize her lifelong love of storytelling.
She believes those dreams aren’t mutually exclusive. “You know, Stephen King taught high school English. So…”
The path ahead is still shrouded in mystery, but Dziekan keeps a couple objectives close: “I want to be working with books in some capacity,” she says.
“And I know that I’m not going to stop writing.”
What brings you joy?
Really just getting to create. I thrive on being able to express myself and craft stories. I love indulging in the weird, the bizarre, and the scary. I love exploring the ways I can reflect emotional truths and share fantastical concepts. I love being excited about getting to play with my imagination.
What is most unique about your story?
I think what’s unique about my story is the diversity of my interests, and how I found myself. Whitman wrote, “I am large. I contain multitudes.” I’m deeply nervous, often introverted, but I want to teach, and I have complete confidence in my stage presence. I have this anxiety, but I paradoxically find comfort in the aesthetics of horror. I write dark things, but with an appreciation for beautiful descriptions, and a kindness towards the world. I’m frequently referential, but I like looking for different angles to approach a topic. I think I’m always growing, always changing, always surprising myself.
What does it mean to be a “Bear for Life?”
To me, being a “Bear for Life” is about the lessons I’ve learned and the memories I’ve made at Ursinus that I know I’m going to carry with me for the rest of my life. I’m really grateful for the experiences that Ursinus has granted me. I feel like a better and more confident writer, and in fact, a better and more confident person as a result of my time here. I’m always going to have a connection to the school.