Zabytko, Irene 1954–

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Zabytko, Irene 1954–


Surname is pronounced "zab-it-ko"; born October 19, 1954, in Chicago, IL; daughter of Stanley (a police officer) and Mary (a singer and homemaker) Zabytko. Ethnicity: "Ukrainian-American." Education: Vermont College of Norwich University, B.A., 1983, M.F.A., 1991; also attended Loyola University Chicago. Religion: Eastern Rite Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Singing, drumming, cooking.


Home—Apopka, FL.


Radio announcer and commercial creator and performer for stations WCWR-AM, Cocoa, FL, and WEZY-FM, Racine, WI, between 1980 and 1981; Community College of Vermont, Montpelier, adjunct professor, 1986; Tupperware, Inc., promotions copywriter, 1990; OdessaPressa Productions, Lyndonville, VT, publisher, 1991-97; Progressive Publishing, Orlando, FL, writer, of MegaBooks, 1998—. Staff writer for the newspapers Apoka Chief and Planter; WMFE-FM Radio, announcer for "The Arts Connection;" guest on numerous media programs; public lecturer; gives readings from her works. Wheat Street Productions, documentary film producer and writer. Taras Shevchenko State University of Kiev, instructor, 1992; Pedagogical Institute, Drohobych, Ukraine, adjunct professor, 1993; St., Leo's College, adjunct professor, 1994; University of Central Florida, instructor, 1994-95; Southern College, adjunct professor, 1995; Seminole Community College, adjunct professor, 1996-97; Ball State University, visiting writer and Lilly fellow, 2003; Gotham Writers Workshop (online program), instructor, 2003—; guest lecturer at schools, including Seminole Community College, Calvin College, and Edgewood College; private tutor and substitute teacher of English as a second language. Fellow in residence at Virginia Center of the Creative Arts, 1989, Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts and Sciences, Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico, 1991, Dorset Colony, 1992, Edna St. Vincent Millay Colony for the Arts, 1994, Ragdale Foundation, 1995, Mary Anderson Center for the Arts, 1997, 2005, Byrdcliffe Art Center, 1998, Alden B. Dow Creativity Center at Northwood University, 2001, and Leighton Studios for Independent Artists at Banff Centre for the Arts, 2005.


Authors Guild, Authors League of America.


Grants from Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, 1985-86, and Barbara Demming Memorial Fund, 1986; PEN Syndicated Fiction Award, 1988, for the short story "Obligation"; cited among "best books for the teen age," New York Public Library, 2004, for When Luba Leaves Home; grant from State of Florida, 2006.


The Sky Unwashed (novel), Algonquin (Chapel Hill, NC), 2000.

When Luba Leaves Home (short stories), Algonquin (Chapel Hill, NC), 2003.

Work represented in anthologies, including Havens for Creatives: IMPACT (includes short story "Obligation"), edited by Char Plotsky, ACTS 1 Creativity Center Anthology Project, 1994; Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing, 4th edition, edited by Edgar V. Roberts, Prentice Hall, 1995; New to North America: Writing by Immigrants, Their Children and Grandchildren, edited by Abby Bogomolny, Burning Bush (New York, NY), 1997; I've Always Meant to Tell You: Letters to Our Mothers; An Anthology of Women Writers, edited by Constance Warloe, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1997; and From Daughters and Sons to Fathers: What I've Never Said, edited by Constance Warloe, Story Line Press (Ashland, OR), 2001. Contributor of more than 150 poems, short stories, essays, and reviews to periodicals, including Hysteria, Sojourner, NewCollage, Black Cat Mystery, Ukrainian Weekly, Women's Review of Books, and Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine. Editor, Vermont Woman, 1988.


Irene Zabytko once told CA: "Like many other writers, I was an avid reader as child. The magical transformation from reader into writer happened by accident when the Chicago Public Library had a book sale one year. I was twelve or so at the time and remember traveling downtown from my very insular neighborhood expressly for this event. One of the books I spent my allowance on was an autobiography by Edna Ferber, A Peculiar Treasure. It was a beautifully printed book with a fancy blue leather cover and several pictures of her with famous people. But what was so amazing was the idea that a woman—a single woman at that—had actually made a living as a successful and well-respected writer. I was also impressed with her penthouse apartment with a rooftop garden where she entertained famous celebrity friends. For a kid who grew up in a very tough inner city neighborhood, her book was a serendipitous revelation that such a life is possible. I still believe in its possibility.

"I write about Ukrainians in America and in Ukraine because I find them fascinating. Early on in my writing life, I wanted to write about ‘Americans’ whoever they were. I grew up in a very Ukrainian-American neighborhood in Chicago, and attended Ukrainian schools, churches, and summer camps, so that by the time I attended college, I wanted to discard that identity and be a real American. Ironically, everyone else was so charmed by my ethnicity and amazed I was born in Chicago and not in Ukraine. I found that very confusing, and more so when I tried to write stories with characters named Debbie or Ken—which never worked. Then, after reading Flannery O'Connor's Mystery and Manners, I realized that, as she said, ‘you have to know your people.’ I certainly know these Ukrainians, and once I figured that out, the stories about them came easily and I'm still writing about people with names like Yurko and Marusia because they are who I know best to write about.

"Primarily, what influences my work is the story. Ethnicity is important, but even such anthropological observations have to transcend to allow the story to get through for the reader—whoever he or she is in the world—to become involved with and maybe be changed for having read the book or story. For instance, The Sky Unwashed is certainly about a very well-known historical catastrophe, Chernobyl, and about a group of old women who return to their deserted village in the contaminated zone around the plant. However, it's my hope that the story also illustrates the tenacity of people surviving cataclysmic events; how they grow despite the odds. That's the transcendence I always hope to find and experience as both a writer and reader.

"There are so many writers who have influenced my work, I hesitate to begin naming them all.

"I have no writing process. I write a lot, and when I don't I become fidgety, and out-of-sorts, and irritating to be around because writing is what I should be doing, and I'm probably not doing it because I'm doing other things that are banal and time-wasters, but which need to be done (like food shopping and bill paying, or updating my resume)."



Booklist, February 15, 2000, review of The Sky Unwashed.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2000, review of The Sky Unwashed.

Library Journal, March 1, 2000, review of The Sky Unwashed.

Publishers Weekly, February 21, 2000, review of The Sky Unwashed.

Ukrainian Weekly, April 23, 2000, "Ukrainian American's Novel Tells Story of Chernobyl's Aftermath," p. 7.