Ralph Savarese


Professor Savarese has been on the faculty at Grinnell for 20 years. He is the author of two books of prose, Reasonable People (memoir) and See It Feelingly (ethnographical literary criticism), and three books of poetry, Republican Fathers, When This Is Over: Pandemic Poems, and Someone Falls Overboard. The third, written with Stephen Kuusisto, is due out in 2021 and is modeled on Marvin Bell’s and William Stafford’s co-authored book, Segues: A Correspondence in Poetry. A chapbook of Ekphrastic poetry, with paintings by Tilly Woodward, will appear in June in Hole in the Head Review. He’s currently working on a fourth book of poetry called Exact Conclusion of Their Hardiness and a book on Herman Melville. With his son, he’s writing a book of letters titled Dear Dad, Dear DJ.

Professor Savarese is also the co-editor of three collections: Papa PhD: Essays on Fatherhood by Men in the Academy; "Autism and the Concept of Neurodiversity,” a special issue of Disability Studies Quarterly; and "The Lyric Body,” a special issue of Seneca Review. A fourth co-edited collection, The Futures of Neurodiversity, is under contract with the Modern Language Association.

Savarese is the recipient of a number of awards: co-winner of 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, creative work, and opinion pieces have appeared in more than 80 journals, books, and newspapers: Aethlon: A Journal of Sports and Literature; American Book Review; American Disasters; American Literature; American Poetry Review; the Atlanta Journal Constitution; the Austin American Statesman; the Baltimore Sun; Bellingham Review, Beloit Poetry Journal; Beltway Poetry Quarterly; Bridge Eight; the Cincinnati Post; Cream City Review; the Dallas Morning News; the Des Moines Register; Disability Studies Quarterly; Edge City Review; Ekphrastic Review; 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; the Gainesville Sun; Graham House Review; the Grinnell Herald Register; the Haven; Hole in the Head Review; the Houston Chronicle; the Huffington Post; Inflexions; Inside Higher Ed; the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA); the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies; Keywords in Disability Studies; the L.A. Times; Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies; the Louisville Courier; Love’s Executive Order; Main Street Rag; Modern Poetry in Translation; Months to Years; Mudlark; Narrative; New England Review; New Verse News; Nine Mile Magazine; One Art; the Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Literary Studies; The Palm Beach Effect: Reflections on Michael Hofmann; Ploughshares; Poetry International; Poetry & Politry; The Poker; Politics & Culture; Prose Studies; Psaltery & Lyre; Rattle; Red Wheelbarrow; Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities; Rethinking Ahab: Melville and the Materialist Turn; Rethinking Empathy through Literature; Rogue Agent, Salon.com; Secret Sharers: Melville, Conrad, and Narratives of the Real; Segue; Seneca Review; Softblow; Southern Humanities Review; Southern Poetry Review; Southwest Review; Stone Canoe; the Tallahassee Democrat; Thin Air; Thinking in the World: A Reader; 2River; Verse Virtual, the Wiley Blackwell Herman Melville Companion; and Wordgathering.

He can be seen in three documentaries about autism: Loving Lampposts, Living Autistic; Finding Amanda (CNN); and Deej. The third, which appeared on PBS, 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, and a Peabody Award.

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

Reviews of Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption

“Savarese’s careful melding of memoir and passionate advocacy for the disabled informs and inspires.”


“What everyone should be talking about: Why Ralph James Savarese and his wife would adopt a 6-year-old with autism is the subject of the new memoir REASONABLE PEOPLE. That it manages to avoid both polemic and cliche is reason enough to applaud.”


“A real-life love story and an urgent manifesto for the rights of people with neurological disabilities.”


Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism & Adoption is poet Ralph James Savarese’s tale of adopting an abused, non-speaking boy, then using love and patience to help his son grow into his full self. A moving memoir, it calls for ‘living with conviction in a cynical time.’”

--Body & Soul

“Savarese writes with passion and humor, careful to include extensive excerpts from DJ’s typing, so readers get a sense of his remarkable growth.”

--Publishers Weekly

“It’s an intellectually (morally, ideologically) challenging read. But to say it’s “worth the challenge” would imply that I had to slog through it. That’s not true—I could hardly put it down.”

--Adoptive Families


Reviews of See It Feelingly: Classic Novels, Autistic Readers, and the Schooling of a No-Good English Professor

"Impassioned and persuasive. . . . A fresh and absorbing examination of autism."

Kirkus Reviews Published On: 2018-07-15

"This idealistic argument for the social value of literature and for the diversity of autism as a condition is a rewarding endeavor. . . ."

Publishers Weekly Published On: 2018-07-23

"This is a powerful book — one that really must be experienced. It is a book that unlocks doors to the many rooms of autism and is likely to surprise the thinking of anyone who steps into them. It carries within it the possibilities of new perspectives on literary work, a greater understanding of autistic neurology, and the chance to meet some remarkable individuals. Read it."

-- Michael Northen ― Wordgathering Published On: 2018-09-12

"Savarese has produced a masterpiece, simultaneously dense and accessible. His voice moves freely—alternating among lyrical, narrative, and instructive—never losing the flow, never dipping into pedantry, never soaring too far toward the abstract for the reader to follow. Not only is this collection of essays brimming with the most important information and ideas about autism, it is a collaboration of rare beauty."

-- Maxfield Sparrow ― Thinking Person's Guide to Autism Published On: 2018-11-28

"Savarese shows that literature—with its imagery, inclusivity, and rich detail—is a natural tent pole for a truly neurodiverse community, one populated by autists and neurotypicals alike. . . . The radical possibility this book ultimately offers is that the gap that has for so long existed between nonverbal autists and neurotypicals can be bridged through literature. Literature is, as Whitman said of himself, large, and contains multitudes."

-- Ittai Orr ― Synapsis Published On: 2019-02-08

"Readers will find this book to be a work of art as Ralph Savarese not only exhibits an understanding of the beauty of teaching but also of the language of the autistic mind. Savarese’s literary creation demystifies the limits of the autistic mind by following five autistic adults through their interpretation of and response to classic literature. . . . Highly recommended. Advanced undergraduates and above; professionals and general readers."

-- D. Pellegrino ― Choice Published On: 2019-04-01

"The sense of critical self-reflection is crucial to this enterprise, and is evident throughout the book. Thankfully, this never veers into self-indulgence; as such, [Savarese's] ethnographic work in this area is an exemplar to all those who study ‘others,’ as outsiders with situated knowledge."

-- Alison Wilde ― Disability & Society Published On: 2019-04-19

"To imagine an autistic rhetoric or an autistic literature is to struggle, audaciously, against a legacy of neurotypical people failing to imagine autism as anything other than lack. That struggle is joined . . . by Ralph [James] Savarese, whose See It Feelingly gives us five extraordinary examples of autistic readers’ responses to literature. It’s like Norman Holland’s classic work of reader-response criticism, 5 Readers Reading . . .  except with autism."

-- Michael Bérubé ― Public Books Published On: 2019-09-23

"Powered by his enthusiasm for connecting with autistics and for representing the fullness of their humanity, See It Feelingly is that rare book in English studies that succeeds as creative nonfiction: a memoir of teaching non-traditional learners that makes a provocative claim for the primacy of the senses in reading literature."

-- Dawn Coleman ― Leviathan Published On: 2019-10-01

"Savarese incorporates storytelling, memoir, and poetry into See It Feelingly, which you will read feelingly, from the opening line."

-- Deborah Jenson ― American Literature Published On: 2020-03-01



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