Let Us Celebrate the Life of JoAnne Ruvoli
21 Mar 2018 by Alan Gravano

With deepest sorrow, we send this brief tribute on behalf of our dear colleague, JoAnne Ruvoli, who passed away unexpectedly on March 15, 2018. Diagnosed in December with a severe strain of leukemia, JoAnne was completing a second round of chemo, feeling tired but hopeful about full recovery.

Those of us who knew her well or had met her for the first time knew JoAnne Ruvoli to be a deeply generous person, and a brilliant scholar and creative thinker. After completing a dissertation on Italian American literary culture in 2011 at the University of Illinois—Chicago, JoAnne was recipient of a prestigious Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at UCLA, where she developed classes in Italian American Studies, worked with archivists, ran conferences, and illuminated her wide-ranging talents as an interdisciplinary scholar across fields and genres.  JoAnne’s profound dedication to teaching continued in her work at Ball State University where she shared her excitement about Italian American literature with students who truly appreciated her intense love for heritage culture and the beauty of language.

As a long-time member of the Italian American Studies Association (formerly AIHA), JoAnne Ruvoli’s work on behalf of this organization was prolonged and innovative as she delivered our website to the twenty-first century, her technical virtuosity only one of the skill sets she possessed.  The papers she delivered at IASA conferences (and our sister conference at Calandra Institute) were gems in the making and many were ultimately published in a variety of journals, one just released in the journal, MELUS (which was also another beloved organization to which JoAnne contributed so much).  Recent essays on Italian American history for Routledge and on Alison Bechdel for the MLA Teaching Approaches Volume are just two examples of JoAnne’s dedication to intersecting fields of history, literature, and film. An adept intellect fueled by unending curiosity, JoAnne was at the epicenter of a disparate and multifarious community of writers, teachers, and scholars. Countless texts--conference papers, articles, books, syllabi--came to be or were much improved by way of the conversations she led or engaged in with those of us fortunate enough to know her. JoAnne raised the level and widened the field of any discourse. And she did so with humility and grace, with innocent enthusiasm and hard-earned wisdom.

But JoAnne Ruvoli was more than a listing of her sundry accomplishments to be placed on a curriculum vita.  She knew how important publishing, teaching, and service were and she epitomized a surfeit of generosity in each area. Yet she knew something else was more vital, more necessary to her living in the world as one of the most decent and virtuous women we have had the honor of knowing. She knew that kindness couldn’t be bargained with, and she was kind. She knew that maintaining close relationships were the most important way to love in the world. And JoAnne illuminated that love in all walks of life: with her husband, Henry, and her twin sister, JoEllen: these beloved relationships enhanced JoAnne’s capacity for love for her parents and brothers, and for her friends and colleagues. 

We are heartbroken by JoAnne’s passing; we know that her death diminishes us. We thank her for the depth of her knowledge, the generosity of her being, and her sterling self.

A memorial celebration will take place in Chicago on April 14, 2018, which is also JoAnne’s birthday. Further details will be sent out when made available.

By Mary Jo Bona & Jessica Maucione