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Ralph Savarese

Department Chair of English


Professor Savarese has been on the faculty at Grinnell for 17 years. He is the author of two books, Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption (Other Press 2007), which Newsweek called a "real life love story and an urgent manifesto for the rights of people with neurological disabilities," and See It Feelingly: Classic Novels, Autistic Readers, and the Schooling of a No-Good English Professor (forthcoming from Duke University Press in October of 2018). He is also the co-editor of three collections: Papa PhD: Men in the Academy Write about Fatherhood (Rutgers University Press 2010), a special issue of Disability Studies Quarterly titled "Autism and the Concept of Neurodiversity" (2010), and a special issue of Seneca Review titled "The Lyrical Body” (2010).

He is the recipient of a number of awards: the Irene Glascock National Undergraduate Poetry Competition (the judges were Seamus Heaney and Grinnell alum Amy Clampitt); the Hennig Cohen Prize from the Herman Melville Society for an “outstanding contribution to Melville scholarship”; an Independent Publisher’s Gold Medal for Reasonable People in the category of health/medicine/nutrition; a Mellon Foundation “Humanities Writ Large” fellowship, which supported a year-long residency at Duke University’s Institute for Brain Sciences; two “notable essay” distinctions in the Best American Essay series; two Pushcart Prize nominations; and a National Endowment for the Humanities summer stipend.

His scholarship and creative work have appeared, among other places, in American Disasters, American Literature; American Poetry Review; Beloit Poetry Journal; Cream City Review; Disability Studies Quarterly; The Ethics of Neurodiversity; Family Trouble: Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family; Foundations of Disability Studies; Fourth Genre; Frontiers of Integrative Neuroscience; Graham House Review; Inflexions; the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies; Keywords in Disability Studies; Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies; Modern Poetry in Translation; Narrative; New England Review; the Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Literary Studies; The Palm Beach Effect: Reflections on Michael Hofmann; Ploughshares; Poetry International; The Poker; Politics & Culture; Prose Studies; Rattle; Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities; Rethinking Empathy through Literature; Secret Sharers: Melville, Conrad, and Narratives of the Real; Segue; Seneca Review; Southern Humanities Review; Southern Poetry Review; Southwest Review; Stone Canoe; and Verse Virtual.

And his opinion pieces have appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Austin American Statesman, the Baltimore Sun, the Cincinnati Post, the Dallas Morning News, the Des Moines Register, the Gainesville Sun, the Houston Chronicle, the Huffington Post, the LA Times, the Louisville Courier Journal, and the Tallahassee Democrat.

He can be seen in three documentaries about autism: Loving Lampposts, Living Autistic; Finding Amanda; and Deej. The third is about his son’s inclusion journey. It follows DJ from eighth grade through his first year at Oberlin College, where he was the institution’s first nonspeaking student with autism. The film’s many awards include “Best of Festival” at Superfest, the international disability film festival.

Professor Savarese teaches American literature, disability studies, medical humanities, and creative writing at Grinnell.

Campus Phone: 

(641) 269-3109


faculty info column 1

On-Campus Address: 

Mears Cottage 213
Grinnell, IA 50112
United States

Courses Taught: 

Craft of Creative Nonfiction; Studies in American Prose II 


“Book Review”: How Literature Plays with the Brain: The Neuroscience of Reading and Art; Mindful Aesthetics: Literature and the Science of Mind; Stories and Minds: Cognitive Approaches to Literary Narrative. American Literature 88.1 (2016.)

“Foreword.” Autism in a Decentered World. New York: Routledge (2016).

“Afterword.” Plankton Dreams: What I Learned in Special Ed. Tito Mukhopadhyay. London: Open Humanities Press (2015).

“Cognition” entry. Keywords in Disability Studies. Eds. Adams, Reiss, and Serlin. New York: NYU Press (2015).

“Nor Yet a Dream of War.” Verse Virtual (2015). Reprint.

“I Object: Autism, Empathy and the Trope of Personification.” In Rethinking Empathy through Literature. Eds. Sue J. Kim and Meghan Marie Hammond. Routledge (2014).

"What Some Autistics Can Teach Us about Poetry: A Neurocosmopolitan Approach." In Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Literary Studies. Ed. Lisa Zunshine. Oxford University Press (2015).

“The Critic as Neurocosmopolite: What Cognitive Approaches to Literature Can Learn from Disability Studies: Lisa Zunshine in Conversation with Ralph James Savarese.” Narrative 22.1 (2014)

“On Listening to a Report of American Conduct in Iraq.” Stone Canoe (2014).

"Towards a Postcolonial Neurology: Autism, Tito Mukhopadhyay, and a New Geo-poetics of the Body." Foundations of Disability Studies. Eds. Matthew Wappett and Katrina Arndt. Palgrave (2013). Reprint.

"I Might Be Famous." In Family Trouble: Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family. Ed. Joy Castro. University of Nebraska Press (2013).

"Neurocosmopolitan Melville," Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies 15.2 (2013).

"Jostled by Difference," Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies 15.2 (2013).

"Easy Breathing Forever." In Stuck in the Middle with You: Parenting in Three Genders. Interview with Jennifer Finney Boylan. Crown Publishers (2013).

"Moving the Field: The Sensorimotor Perspective on Autism." Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience 7.6 (2013).

"From Neurodiversity to Neurocosmopolitanism: Beyond Mere Acceptance and Inclusion." In Ethics and Neurodiversity. Eds. Alexandra Perry and C.D. Herrera. Cambridge Scholars Press (2013).

"The Exile of Not Exactly." In The Palm Beach Effect: Reflections on Michael Hofmann. Ed. Andre Naffis-Sahely. CB Editions (2012).

"Literate Lungs: One Autist's Journey as a Reader." With Emily Thornton Savarese. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities37.2 (2012).

"Gobs & Gobs of Metaphor: Dynamic Relation and a Classical Autist's Typed Massage." Inflexions 5 (2012).

"Myself on High." Ploughshares 38.2-3 (2012).

"River of Words, Raft of Our Conjoined Neurologies." Fourth Genre 14.1 (2012).

"The Justice and My Father." Seneca Review 41. 2 (2011).

Primary Academic Interest: 

American Literature
creative writing
Disability Studies

Academic Interests: 

Neuroscience, Autism Studies, Translation, the Lyric Essay

Department Chair: