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Ralph Savarese

Department Chair of English

Ralph James Savarese is the author of 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.” While promoting the book, he appeared on a host of radio and TV programs, including NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show” and CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.” 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).

In October 2018, Duke University Press will publish his new book: See It Feelingly: Classic Novels, Autistic Readers, and the Schooling of a No-Good English Professor. In it, Savarese reveals the startling insights of a group that most researchers view as incapable of appreciating literature. His autistic readers include his son, DJ Savarese (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), Tito Mukhopadhyay (Moby-Dick), Jamie Burke (Ceremony), Dora Raymaker (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), Eugenie Belkin (The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter), and Temple Grandin (the short stories “Meat” and “The Ecstatic Cry”). Of the book, poet and Guggenheim Foundation President, Ed Hirsch remarked, “This deft and impassioned hybrid—part memoir, part disability study, part portraiture, part literary criticism—is a book of revelations about reading, neurodiversity, and American literature. I was repeatedly startled by its slow cascade of correctives and insights—deepened, widened, and enlarged. It is a necessary book.” For more information see https://www.see-it-feelingly.com/

Savarese is the recipient of a number of awards: the Irene Glascock National Undergraduate Poetry Competition (the judges were Seamus Heaney and 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 fellowship.

His scholarship, creative work, and opinion pieces have appeared, among other places, in American Literature, American Poetry Review, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Baltimore Sun, the Des Moines Register, Disability Studies Quarterly, The Ethics of Neurodiversity, Foundations of Disability Studies, Fourth Genre, Frontiers of Integrative Neuroscience, the Houston Chronicle, Keywords in Disability Studies, the LA Times, Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies, Modern Poetry in Translation, Narrative, New England Review, the Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Literary Studies, Ploughshares, Rethinking Empathy through Literature, Seneca Review, Sewanee Review, Southern Humanities Review, and Southwest Review.

He can be seen in three documentaries about autism: Loving Lampposts, Living Autistic; Finding Amanda; and Deej. The third follows his adoptive son, 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 honors include a Peabody Award and “Best of Festival” at Superfest, the international disability film festival.

Savarese teaches American literature, disability studies, medical humanities, and creative writing at Grinnell College in Iowa.

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: