Interview: Katrina Shawver

What have you written?

My debut nonfiction biography Henry: A Polish Swimmer’s True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America  is the true story of a Polish swimmer who survived three years in Auschwitz and Buchenwald, and then lived the American dream. The book has been thoroughly researched and includes more than 75 original photos and documents not seen elsewhere. The book is a direct result of chance meeting. It will be officially released on November 1, 2017, but is available worldwide for pre-orders now.

When I met the eighty-five year old Henry Zguda, my main character, in November 2002 I wrote for the daily newspaper in Phoenix, Arizona which I’ve called home for more than forty years. The only reason our paths even crossed was a random phone call for a possible lead on a new column. From the beginning, he possessed an exceptional memory, a surprising cache of original documents and photos, and a knack for meeting the right people at the right time. He had survived three years in Auschwitz and Buchenwald as a Catholic political prisoner, all of whom have rececived far too little credit for their suffering. He’d seen hell on earth, but chose to look forward rather than backward, and went on to live a pretty incredible life, which inspired me. I still can’t explain why, after a single 600-word column, I impulsively and naively called him and suggested we collaborate on his story. I knew nothing of Poland and had never written a book before. But we “clicked”, he trusted me, and he had no one else to leave his story and documents to.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background.

I hold a B.A. from the University of Arizona in English/Political Science. But I have excelled at the School of Trial and Error. I’ve held various careers including software support and training, paralegal, tax preparation, and four years spent answering phones for a forensic psychiatrist. In the background, I was always writing something. The act of sitting down and either writing long hand, or typing without watching the screen or backspacing, helps cement thoughts and ideas. I’ve always been drawn to nonfiction, and biographies even as a young girl. Since I was shy as a child, and somewhat lonely, I became a voracious reader, meeting my friends in books. Reading a lot lays the necessary foundation for good writers. When I can, I play a pretty good game of ping-pong and like to hike the mountains near my home. I’m also partial to home-cooking. I still dream of having enough time to read through my entire TBR (To Be Read) pile. It will never happen because I keep finding more books I want to read.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Ironically, the idea of a ‘writing career’ never entered my mind. I wrote business and procedure manuals at work, really good letters to the editor, and the requisite thank you notes my mother trained me to write at a young age. My accidental writing career began in 1997. I penned a letter to the editor of the Arizona Republic newspaper in Phoenix, and in it I complained about their coverage of schools. At the time I had three children young children and was frustrated with the focus on schools and not parents. In this letter I added a somewhat flippant ‘P.S. – I’m a mom, and a I have a degree in English. If you don’t find anyone else to write it, I will.’ . Six months later they called me up and asked me to write a regular column in a new community section. I did that for eleven years until the paper downsized. Through that exposure to journalism, I became passionate about the power of the written word to influence opinion, provoke discussion, and inform folks of interesting people and organizations. Henry is written in the same vein. I hope it provokes discussion and inspires people to think. Later, my newspaper writing transitioned to blog writing. By posting hundreds of blogs, I basically wrote the book 600 words at a time.

Do you have a favorite author?

While I follow certain authors, I’m drawn more to individual works. Books that come to mind include Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. I also keep both volumes of This I Believe, Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women in a prominent place on my bookshelf. It’s an incredible challenge to write out your personal beliefs in 300 words or less, and everyone has a different angle. We can learn so much if we first stop and listen to each other’s wisdom.

Where can we find Henry?

The official release date is November 1, 2017. It is currently available for pre-order worldwide at most online sites.

How do we get in touch with you?

I can be found at, where I blog regularly. Currently, if you sign up for my email list, you’ll receive a free excerpt from the book to read now. I am also on Facebook, GoodReads, Twitter and LinkedIn.



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