Remembering JoAnne Ruvoli

Published: March 28, 2018

by Professor Lucia Re

JoAnne Ruvoli, former fellow of the “Cultures in Transnational Perspectives” Mellon Postdoctoral Program in the Humanities at UCLA, passed away unexpectedly on March 15, 2018. Diagnosed in December with a severe strain of leukemia, JoAnne was completing a second round of chemo, reportedly feeling tired but hopeful about full recovery.

JoAnne Ruvoli was a brilliant scholar, teacher and creative thinker. She received her Ph.D. in English and multi-ethnic literature from the University of Illinois at Chicago, with an Interdepartmental Concentration in Gender and Women’s StudiesHer dissertation, entitled “Framing Ethnicity: Storytelling in Italian American Novels,” was co-directed by Chris Messenger and Mary Jo Bona. JoAnn also had an M.A. in English from Loyola University in Chicago, and previously earned her B.A. in English from Northwestern University.  JoAnne’s family migrated from Sicily to the United States in the early 1900s, and she grew up in the suburbs of Chicago.

JoAnne’s diverse interests included early cinema (D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford, Theda Bara, Tina Modotti), “mafia movies,” comics and graphic novels.  She was at work on a book about a diverse group of writers including Mario Puzo, Tina De Rosa, Adria Bernardi, Carole Maso and Don DeLillo, who address the post-modern condition through Italian-American culture and history.

JoAnne was recipient of the prestigious Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at UCLA for 2011-12 and 2012-2013 academic years. The Mellon program “Cultures in Transnational Perspectives” at UCLA was created and directed by Françoise Lionnet and Shu-mei Shih. As a Mellon Fellow at UCLA, JoAnne co-organized and took part in several conferences and monthly seminars and presented her work to fellow Mellon scholars–researchers trained in literature, history, ethnomusicology and political science, all exploring questions of transnationalism from both contemporary and historical perspectives. JoAnne returned in subsequent years to UCLA for reunions with the other Mellon fellows, taking part in related Mellon scholarly conferences. Many friendships and intellectual bonds developed out of those events.

At UCLA, JoAnne also developed and taught four innovative, stimulating and successful classes for the Italian and English Departments, including “Transnationalism and Beat Literature: Writing Italian American Currents,” “Italian American Circuits: Codes, Crimes and Contradictions,” “Italian Migrations and Interethnic Encounters,” and “Narratives of Diaspora in Italian American Literature and Culture.” She mentored several graduate students in Italian who worked as her teaching assistants, including Monica Streifer and Renata Redford.

JoAnne demonstrated her wide-ranging talents as an interdisciplinary scholar across fields and genres.  Her profound dedication to teaching–which started when she was just out of college and taught high school in Los Angeles–continued in her work at Ball State University, in Indiana, where she shared her excitement about transnational Italian and Italian-American studies and multiethnic art forms. Recent essays by JoAnne include “The Italian American Family and Transnational Circuits,” for the Routledge History of Italian Americans (2018) and an essay on Alison Bechdel ‘s graphic memoir Fun HomeA Family Tragicomic for the volume of the MLA “teaching approaches” series.

I will always remember JoAnne as an amazing colleague, and a generous, unassuming and warm person who shared many insights over coffee or tea between or after classes, and provided endlessly rewarding suggestions for books to read, films to see and how to deal with students and improve syllabi. I feel very fortunate to have known her, and I know she will be deeply missed by all those whose lives she touched.  Our condolences go to her husband, Henry Gruba, and to her twin sister, JoEllen.