Ralph Savarese, associate professor of English, has recently received two significant honors:
- A National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend that provides funding for individuals to pursue scholarly work in the humanities during the summer, and
- A visiting faculty fellowship with Duke University’s Humanities Writ Large program — a five-year initiative supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation — which is aimed at redefining the role of the humanities in undergraduate education.
“Personal experience raising and including a very successful son with classical autism has helped me to think about the kind of issues that I will be exploring.” Savarese says. “I’m interested, both in my life and my work, in demonstrating how dramatically we’ve underestimated people with neurological differences.”
Savarese is known not only for his exceptional scholarship, including his book Reasonable People, but also for his advocacy for an inclusive campus. He has encouraged physical, technological, and pedagogical changes at the College to improve accessibility and to create opportunities for the community to engage with and include a diverse array of people. For example, Writers@Grinnell, which he directs, incorporates “many wonderful writers of diversity — not only African-American, Latino, transgendered, and gay authors, but also deaf, blind, bipolar, and autistic authors, and those with motor impairments,” he notes.
“Ralph Savarese is an example of the excellent faculty at Grinnell College, and we're proud that Duke University recognizes the value in his unique perspective and passion,” says Paula Smith, dean of the College. “We are certain that Duke students and faculty will benefit from his time with them.”
During the period of the NEH stipend, Savarese will work on his book project, A Dispute with Nouns: Autism, Poetry and the Sensing Body, in which he argues that many classical autistics have an unacknowledged affinity for poetry and make palpable its status as fully embodied knowledge. “Contrary to the standard account, neurological differences in classical autism might actually facilitate poetic expression,” he says.
During the Humanities Writ Large fellowship, Savarese will work under Duke professors Michael Platt and Deborah Jensen at the Institute for Brain Science, where he plans to deepen and expand his understanding of relevant issues in neurology. Under Charlotte Sussman and Doris Iarovici, he will be engaged with the emerging humanities network, “Learning to Listen: Empathy in Literature and Medicine,” where he will encourage premed students to think differently about neurological disorders. By doing so, Savarese believes that we can provide better care for people with autism and that we can begin to foster in the world at large what he calls “neuro-cosmopolitanism,” the ability to be at home with all manner of neurologies.