A Brief History of Ruth Apolonia Zamoyta
Like Donald Trump, Ruth was born in Jamaica, Queens. Like Anthony Scaramucci, she grew up on Long Island. But unlike anyone in the Trump administration, she spent every summer of her childhood in the woods of the Adirondack Park, surrounded by down-to-earth people and unrivaled natural beauty. Father: professor, philosopher, theologian, pontificator, martinet, perfectionist, absolutist, jokester, sensitive but (therefore?) detached. Mother: girl scout, gym teacher, story teller, grade school teacher, terrible cook, pretty good sketcher, gregarious, merciful, outgoing, tolerant of an intolerable husband. Symbols of their union: rosary beads, golf clubs, and a pitcher of Manhattans.
Being the first child, Ruth was given special attention and a lot was expected of her, but she was always told she could do anything, and she rose to the challenge. Being the oldest of five, she also needed to learn at an early age how to be a benevolent dictator. She grew up in a world where kids scarfed down their breakfasts, ran out of the house, and didn’t come back till dinner. Bikes, forts, mud pies, kickball in the street, neighborhood-wide hide-and-seek, puppet shows, gymnastics routines, falling in the stream, stepping on bee hives, stitches, measles, ice skating with our sneakers on the sump, dressing up in mom’s old cocktail dresses, making potions out of toiletries, performing surgery on stuffed animals, making paper snow flakes and popcorn balls for the holidays, cheating at Monopoly and Clue, spying on neighbors from the limbs of cherry trees. On rainy days, and at night, with a flashlight in her bed, Ruth devoured book after book, particularly Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie mysteries.
Ruth wrote her first book when she was about five. “The Boy and the Gril [sic] and I Love You.” In fifth grade she was one of two students tapped by Miss Castoro to enter a diocesan story-writing contest and she won. Well, everybody won. She wrote poems and songs with her friends for fun. In high school, she filled her geometry notebook with rhyming poems (because she was good at math and bored in class). She showed the poems to her English teacher, Mr. Suarez. He praised her and gave her a role in a class staging and filming of the short story “Unlighted Lamps” by Sherwood Anderson.
In Junior year, Ruth’s family moved permanently into their summer home in Lake Clear Junction, NY, population 50. She went to Saranac Lake Central High School where she astounded her English teacher, Mr. Spence, by correctly answering the question, “What does ‘in blood, stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er,’ mean?” She got the lead in the Senior play, Rehearsal for Murder by Richard Levinson and William Link (Lynn Redgrave played that part in a film), but has never acted in a dramatic production since then because she sucks at acting.
Ruth wanted to be either an aerospace engineer or a CPA when she grew up. She went to St. John’s University, took a required English class her first semester, read Chaucer’s “The Miller’s Tale” one week into class, and declared herself an English major. She went to the freshman activities fair but didn’t make it around to many tables because she immediately saw the diminutive Philippino fencing coach across the parking lot with a table full of weapons and made a bee line. Coach Brodeth looked waaaaay up at Ruth and a smile stretched across his face. He put a foil in her hand and she fell in love. With the weapon, not the coach.
Ruth went on to grad school for English at NYU. She took short story workshops at the West Side Y and was assistant manager at the good ol’ Shakespeare & Co. bookstore on Broadway & 82nd. She studied contemporary poetry with Harold Bloom, and had a few—certainly not enough—extremely interesting classes in English literature from Chaucer to Ashbery. She wrote her thesis on The Dubliners. It was the golden age of literary theory, and she found herself settling in comfortably with the Freudians.
Then she graduated and had to get a job. She ended up at a Japanese brokerage ordering office supplies and proofreading their English-language correspondence. Soon, she got married, had a baby, and moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where she got permission from her old prof Harold Bloom to sit in on his graduate Shakespeare classes at Yale.
The family, now with kid #2, then moved to New Jersey. When kid #2 started going to school, Ruth turned back to her art and wrote a humungous novel inspired by Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa. In her novel, firstname.lastname@example.org, Ruth basically took all the characters from Clarissa, jumbled them up, and plopped them into the Internet in year 1999, where they existed only in their emails and chats with one another. It was published serially on the now-defunct classicnovels.com.
Ruth eventually joined the US1 poetry collective in Princeton and focused on her verse. She self-published a collection called ‘Otsu’ and Other Poems, and then got messed up with a small, cooperative poetry press called Ragged Sky (chief editor Ellen Foos), for which she co-edited a couple of poetry anthologies. Meanwhile, she had written another novel, which has been consigned to the filing cabinet for now, and she tried her hand at writing a play about an octogenarian heiress who strikes up a transformational friendship with a young dancer. She continued to write volumes of lugubrious verse, and had kid #3.
We want to keep this upbeat, so let’s say at some point Ruth got a divorce. She again had to look for a job, after 18 years as an at-home-mom/fiction-writer. It took her 386 days to find a job, but meanwhile her fencing career really skyrocketed, because she had all that time to train. In 2010, under Maestro Kornel Udvarhelyi, she won the highest honor among “veteran” (40+) women epee fencers: the Cynthia Carter Memorial Cup. (It’s like the Stanley Cup for old lady fencers—Ruth’s name is engraved on it.)
She finally got a job at Columbia University, in the office of President Lee Bollinger, who held the rare but high distinction of having been called a moron by Donald Trump (Ruth’s old neighbor). Ruth got another master’s while at Columbia, this time in something more monetizeable: strategic communications. When she graduated from Columbia, she started looking for a job in the arts, and ended up working in fundraising and communications at New Jersey Theatre Alliance, the service organization for the state’s professional, producing theatres.
To familiarize herself with the field, Ruth started going to plays in New Jersey and New York, or wherever she might be traveling, clocking in about 100 plays or readings a year. Then one day, Bob Carr, the program director at the Alliance, came into her office, fretting. He had put out a call for submissions weeks before, looking for written pieces from caregivers for a new program called Healing Voices OnStage: Caregivers Stories, but no one had submitted. Ruth thought about her experience taking care of her parents through illness and death, and said, “I’ll go home and whip something up.” She banged out a skit about a middle-aged woman wishing her suffering mother would stop eating and die, but the next day Bob said don’t worry—he had been inundated with submissions overnight.
Ruth knew she had more than a skit on her hands. So she fleshed it out into a full-length play and workshopped it at Luna Stage Company under Kaitlin Stilwell, worked with dramaturg Jessica O’Hara-Baker, had a public reading at Dreamcatcher Repertory Company (now Vivid Theatre) directed by Laura Ekstrand, showed it to scholars, revised and revised, and it became her first play, The Caregivers.
The Caregivers won her a NJ State Council on the Arts artist fellowship, was semi-finalist in Bay Area Playwrights Festival, and was given special consideration for the Relentless Award from the American Playwriting Foundation. Encouraged, Ruth figured she should write a few more plays. Since then, she has written The Fencers, a play about middle-aged women fencers contending for a spot on the US Veterans Womens Epee Team (also semi-finalist for Bay Area Playwrights Festival); and The Incels, which was accepted for development through Art House Production’s INKubator, received a live reading form Urban Stages, NYC in January 2020, followed by an encore digital reading in September 2020, was further developed through the NJ Play Lab’s comprehensive residency program, and was nominated for a 2021 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.
She has also written The Suspects: A Sustainability Murder Mystery, a farce about the murder of a suburban Green Party mayoral candidate; The Lovers, a surprising love-triangle story told in reverse chronological order after Pinter’s Betrayal; The Widow, inspired by the story of the “Black Widow” in Japan (a septuagenarian who picked up four rich, decrepit men online, got them to make her beneficiary of their estates, and then poisoned them with cyanide); The Heiress and the Dancer, about a rich blind old recluse reignited by a young brilliant gay dancer who is also a leech; The Mischief Maker, about a harried mother and rebellious teen in rural Virginia in the 80s; and multiple hilarious 10-minute plays including “Baby’s First Madness,” about a woman in labor trying to save the real estate deal of her life; “Eleanor Roosevelt’s Pudding,” where the ghost of Eleanor Roosevelt comes back to life to do a YouTube cooking demonstration; and “Phil Rizzuto Gives Parenting Advice,” where the ghost of Phil Rizzuto comes back to save the relationship between clueless dad and scornful teen. Hmm. A lot of common threads in here.
Ruth is now working on four full-length plays and a screenplay about Helene Mayer. She lives with her last remaining domiciled child, a few houseplants, and a cat, and is most excited to have recently received the highest honor imaginable: grandmotherhood. The award ceremony is in June.