Ralph Savarese

Offices, Departments, or Centers: English , Science, Medicine, and Society ,

Professor Savarese has been on the faculty at Grinnell for 21 years. He has also taught at Deerfield Academy, Keene State College, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland, the University of Florida, Duke University, and the Newberry Library in Chicago. In 2012-2013, he was a fellow at Duke University’s Institute for Brain Sciences. In 2019-2020, he taught, with Elizabeth Prevost in Grinnell’s history department, a seminar at the Newberry called “One for the Books: On the Pleasures and Politics of Reading.” He is the author of five books and the co-editor of three collections. A sixth book, Neurological Melville, is under contract with Bloomsbury Academic, and a fourth co-edited collection, The Futures of Neurodiversity, is under contract with the Modern Language Association. A poet, nonfiction writer, scholar, and activist, he teaches American literature, creative writing, disability studies, and neurohumanities at the college. Outside of Grinnell, he offers workshops in the arts to people with significant disabilities. His son, DJ, was Oberlin College’s first nonspeaking student with autism—he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 2017. A documentary about his inclusion journey appeared on PBS and won a prestigious Peabody Award. Savarese lives in Iowa City, a UNESCO City of Literature, and loves it.

Recent Publications:

“Juan” (poem in Threepenny Review, 2022)

“Phantom Empathy: Ahab and Mirror-Touch Synesthesia” (with Pilar Martinez Benedi in Ahab Unbound: Melville and the Materialist Turn, University of Minnesota Press, 2022)

“Enmeshing Selves, Words and Media, or Two Life Writers in One Family Talk about Art and Disability (with David James Savarese in Er(r)go, 2022)

Forthcoming Publications

“Spoiler” (lyric essay in Brevity, 2022)

“TIA” (poem in Aethlon, 2023)

“’A Mute Wooing’: Animism in Pierre” (with Pilar Martinez Benedi in The Wiley Companion to Herman Melville, 2022)

“Backhanded Compliments, or Rehabilitating Rehabilitation in Walt Whitman” (with Pilar Martinez Benedi in The Oxford Handbook to Walt Whitman, 2023)

Into the Grey Zone: Dramatic Irony and Disorders of Consciousness” (in Substance, 2023).


Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption (Other Press, 2007)

See It Feelingly: Classic Novels, Autistic Readers, and the Schooling of a No-Good English Professor Duke University Press, 2018)

Republican Fathers (Nine Mile Books, 2020)

When This Is Over: Pandemic Poems (Ice Cube Press, 2020)

Someone Falls Overboard: Talking through Poems (with Stephen Kuusisto, Nine Mile Books, 2021)

Neurological Melville: Modeling Interdisciplinary Research in the Sciences and Humanities (with Pilar Martinez Benedi, under contract with Bloomsbury Academic)


Did We Make It? (with Tilly Woodward, Hole in the Head Review, 2021)

Co-edited Collections

Papa PhD: Essays on Fatherhood by Men in the Academy (Rutgers University Press, 2010)

The Lyric Body (Seneca Review, 2010)

Autism and the Concept of Neurodiversity (Disability Studies Quarterly 2010)

The Futures of Neurodiversity (under contract with the Modern Language Association)

Savarese is the recipient of a number of awards: the Irene Glascock National Undergraduate Poetry Competition (the judges were Seamus Heaney and Grinnell alumna 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; two “notable essay” distinctions in the Best American Essays series; two Pushcart Prize nominations; and a National Endowment for the Humanities summer stipend. He can be seen in three documentaries about autism: Loving Lampposts, Living AutisticFinding Amanda (CNN); and Deej.

Savarese’s scholarship, creative work, and opinion pieces have appeared in more than 80 journals, books, and newspapers: Aethlon: A Journal of Sports and LiteratureAmerican Book ReviewAmerican DisastersAmerican LiteratureAmerican Poetry Review; the Atlanta Journal Constitution; the Austin American Statesman; the Baltimore SunBellingham ReviewBeloit Poetry JournalBeltway Poetry QuarterlyBrevity; Bridge Eightthe Cincinnati PostCream City Review; the Dallas Morning News; the Des Moines RegisterDisability Studies QuarterlyEdge City ReviewEkphrastic ReviewThe Ethics of NeurodiversityFamily Trouble: Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing FamilyFoundations of Disability StudiesFourth GenreFrontiers of Integrative Neuroscience; the Gainesville SunGalway Review; Graham House Review; the Grinnell Herald Register; the HavenHole in the Head Review; the Houston Chronicle; the Huffington PostInflexionsInside Higher Ed; the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA); the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability StudiesKeywords in Disability Studies; the L.A. TimesLeviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies; the Louisville CourierLove’s Executive OrderMain Street RagModern Poetry in TranslationMollyhouse; Months to Years; Mudlark; NarrativeNew England ReviewNew Verse NewsNine Mile MagazineOne Art; the Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Literary StudiesThe Palm Beach Effect: Reflections on Michael HofmannPloughsharesPoetry InternationalPoetry & PolitryThe PokerPolitics & CultureProse StudiesPsaltery & LyreRattleRed Wheelbarrow; Research and Practice for Persons with Severe DisabilitiesRethinking Empathy through LiteratureRogue AgentRorotoko; Salon.comSecret Sharers: Melville, Conrad, and Narratives of the RealSegueSeneca ReviewSoftblowSouthern Humanities ReviewSouthern Poetry ReviewSouthwest ReviewStone Canoe; the Tallahassee DemocratThin AirThinking in the WorldA Reader2RiverVerse Virtual; and Wordgathering.

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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