Ksenia Rychtycka ’93 Publishes Poetry Chapbook, "A Sky Full of Wings"

Ksenia Rychtycka ’93 discusses her new chapbook and how her experience at Columbia helped her become a published author.

Ksenia Rychtycka ’93 has always enjoyed writing. When she was little, she would steal her sister’s typewriter to write stories. Now, Rychtycka has published her poetry chapbook "A Sky Full of Wings." The chapbook was selected as a finalist in the 2020 New Women's Voices Chapbook Competition and will be published by Finishing Line Press in September 2021. Rychtycka has also recently published a poem "Why Honey Matters," which appears in the September 2021 issue of The Literary Bohemian. 

Here, Rychtycka discusses her new chapbook and how her experience at Columbia helped her become a published author: 

When did you know you wanted to become a writer?

I’ve wanted to write since I was ten years old and started pounding out little stories on my sister’s manual typewriter. I grew up in a first-generation Ukrainian-American family and books were always a prized possession. Both of my parents were writers and I guess I got that gene. 

I was also encouraged to write in school and remember winning first place in a grade school essay contest. While growing up in the Detroit Ukrainian-American community, I participated in many school plays and events where I memorized and recited poetry out loud, both in English and Ukrainian. My mother was my biggest supporter and actively encouraged me, and I remember writing my first poem at the age of seven. I was one of those kids who’d get so engrossed in a book that I’d have to be told to go outside and play. 

In college, I majored in journalism with a public relations/advertising focus as there was no major in Creative Writing at the time, but I always knew I wanted a Creative Writing degree. After getting my undergraduate degree and backpacking through Europe for a few months, I moved to Chicago and graduated from Columbia College Chicago’s MA Fiction ‘93 program. My short story collection, Crossing The Border, was published in 2012 and my upcoming poetry chapbook will be released soon. 

Can you share the title of the book and a brief synopsis? When was the book published? How did you get it published?

In June 2020, I submitted my manuscript, A Sky Full Of Wings, to the New Women’s Voices Chapbook Competition. I finished writing the chapbook about a month or two after the COVID-19 lockdown began. It was good to have something to focus on. I found out toward the end of the year that the manuscript was selected as a finalist and would be published by Finishing Line Press in September 2021. 

The chapbook consists of 25 poems and centers around the themes of Home, Journeying, Ancestral Land and Circle of Life. Family history is juxtaposed with personal experiences and highlights the journeys, both physical and psychological, that occur along the way. It is available for preorder here.

What inspired you to write this book, is this topic personal for you? 

I first explored my heritage in my short story collection which features nine stories mainly set in the United States and Ukraine. Those stories ranged in time from the Soviet era to the 2004 Orange Revolution and were inspired by my initial visit to Ukraine in 1990, as well as my years of living and working in Kyiv from 1996-2000. While working on my poetry chapbook which originally was supposed to focus on my backpacking travels, I found myself writing poems about my family and the ties that are passed down through generations. It was unexpected and I decided to see where it would take me. 

How did your experience at Columbia help you write and finish your book? Are there any Columbia faculty that helped you throughout the writing process? If so, how? 

My time at Columbia College was very special and invigorating. I found my voice in the Story Workshop semi-circles and I had incredible instructors who guided me and provided invaluable insight. Randy Albers and Andy Allegretti were immensely helpful and encouraging, nudging me in new directions when needed as I grew more confident in my writing. They showed me how to find different vantage points, to reexamine perspectives, to trust my instincts. Gary Johnson was my thesis advisor and he encouraged me to use my cultural background and experiences in my work. That was a game-changer. Before I came to Columbia, I didn’t write about characters who came from an immigrant background and the writing often fell flat. Once I channeled this, my work came alive. Shawn Shiflett helped me hone my dialogue skills. Excerpts from my thesis as well as a short story I first wrote at Columbia were later reworked and included in my story collection.

How did your time at Columbia College help you become a better writer?

The Story Workshop program gave me the tools to move away from a more journalistic approach to my writing and to delve deep into the discovery process, to be open to surprises and let the characters lead the way. The question “What happens next,” in circle time was very liberating and allowed me to move forward spontaneously with the writing. It wasn’t about figuring everything out beforehand – loose ends and sloppy writing would be addressed in rewrites – it was about letting go and getting the words down on the page. One of my stories came to life when an image popped into my head during a circle time exercise. I envisioned an elderly man climbing up a set of rickety stairs. I had no idea who this man was or even where the story was set but that image was so powerful that I couldn’t let it go. The story ended up being set in Soviet-era Ukraine and was one of the first pieces I published in a literary journal. This same approach has also helped me with my poetry. 

Would you advise a prospective student to attend Columbia College, and if so, why? 

Yes, and I have done so! My experience was positive and life changing, and I loved being around other creatives. I was inspired by my teachers and fellow students and grew so much as a writer. 

What advice do you have for current students?

Take advantage of this time to focus on your craft and be true to yourself and to your vision. Find your voice and don’t be discouraged. Have the patience to revise as needed and read your work out loud. Build connections with other writers so that you have a support network after graduation. Attend literary readings – they will inspire you. Read and write as much as you can but don’t berate yourself during breaks from the actual writing. Those periods are helpful and rejuvenating and sometimes things need to simmer before they come out on the page. 

Is there anything else you’d like for us to include?

My Twitter handle is @KRychtycka. My website is kseniarychtycka.com.