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Happy 100th, Irene Backalenick!

Five years ago, “06880” saluted Irene Backalenick.

The noted Westport writer — a longtime New York Times journalist who, after earning a Ph.D. in theater history, became a well-regarded theater reviewer — had just embarked on a successful new career as a poet.

She was 95 years old.

Today, Irene turns 100.

Irene Backalenick

Like anyone who reaches the century mark, she’s had a varied, interesting life. A Providence native who worked as a secretary after high school, then 5 years later was accepted without any college prep at Brown University, and graduated summa cum laude, she has never stopped engaging with words, or the world. 

After moving from her home of decades in Greens Farms to the Watermark at 3030 Park in Bridgeport, Irene jumped into her new community. She and another former journalist started a writers’ workshop. That led to her poetry — and publication in a number of outlets.

At 100, Irene is in strong physical and mental health. She decided, because of COVID, to forgo a big party.

Her son Paul — also a writer — and his wife Karen will be there, though. He’ll show her a copy of his latest project: a collection of her theater reviews, in a self-published book.

In 1956, when this photo was taken, Irene Backalenick (lower right) — shown with her sister-in-law Theda Frank (left) and niece Wendy — was 35 years old.

Recently, the Watermark asked Irene to interview new residents for their in-house publication. Among them: a group of nuns.

Years ago, Irene interviewed a woman from that order. That nun has died, but Irene remembers her fondly.

Those are the kinds of things that a 100-year-old woman experiences.

Happy birthday, Irene. Here’s to many more years of health, happiness — and poetry.

Irene Backalenick


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