Creative writing major Makaela “Katy” Kilsdonk decided to use fiction to show the “freaky” side of American history.
For her senior project, consisting of the first several chapters of a novel-length book and a critical introduction, Kilsdonk utilized internet and book research about circuses and life for people labeled as “freaks” in the 1920s, uncovering some lesser-known parts of American history in the process.
During Kilsdonk’s research, she uncovered a number of oddities, like “midget towns,” dwellings reserved for people with dwarfism, and “Ugly Laws” that existed in certain areas of the South.
The laws discriminated against the physically deformed, banning them from work, according to Kilsdonk. Some people who were alienated by things like the “midget towns” and the “Ugly Laws,” Kilsdonk explained, sought solace in freak shows like the one she portrays.
Kilsdonk’s story focuses on a fictional mid-1920s freak show. The first written chapters of her future novel introduce the main characters, the opening conflict of those chapters and the overarching conflict of the novel.
At the center of the conflict, Kilsdonk said, is a being of her own creation. Kilsdonk was fascinated by the idea of a mer-creature in a circus after seeing a poster on the Barnum and Bailey website during her research and thus, created a mer-creature original to her story.
Kilsdonk said she chose to write historical fiction to teach people “in an interesting way” about the lesser-known truths of history. During her presentation she will read from her opening chapters.