By Snezana Zabic
Scholar and teacher JoAnne Ruvoli was a friend of Packingtown Review from day one. When we were just starting out a decade ago at the University of Illinois at Chicago, she was a wealth of support and advice. She had served as an editor at Other Voices, another journal that had once been housed at UIC, so she warned us ahead of time about the challenges of running a lit mag, but she never failed to also encourage us to persist.
Back then, JoAnne and I were grad students assigned to the same severe and outdated office in the concrete tower called University Hall, equipped with the furniture from the ’70s and a desktop computer from the ’90s. The floor was worn-out linoleum. Instead of windows, there were slits of thick glass all but swallowed up by the gritty concrete columns that made up the wall that faced the campus and the city beyond. Despite its uninviting look, the office was a warm and calm space thanks to JoAnne’s presence.
We prepped and graded in that room, and held office hours that our students rarely attended. We talked a lot. About our skepticism of academic institutions and its hierarchies, about our love for old-school singer songwriters and Beat poetry. A native Chicagoan, JoAnne told me about her city’s past, and I told her about my no-longer-existing home country.
We talked about our futures too. I would talk her ear off about the journal a few of us grad students were starting, and I did my best to rope JoAnne in. She would tell me about completing her dissertation on Italian-American literature and about her job search, and she successfully resisted my peer pressure.
While she opted out of taking an editorial role in Packingtown Review, she remained a journal whisperer behind the scenes for several years filled with growing pains and small victories. Along with moral support and expert advice, she contributed a review essay for our first print issue before she left Chicago to pursue her scholarship and teaching. When we made our digital comeback in 2013, she contributed a review essay on Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama. At the time, she was a Visiting Professor at UCLA. Next, this academic life took her to Ball State.
I saw JoAnne only a few times after she finished grad school. I will not forget her.
. . .
they are not lazy or afraid
they plant seeds, they smile, they
speak to one another. The word
coming into its own; touch of love;
on the brain, the ear.
. . .
Diane di Prima, “Revolutionary Letter #4”