JoAnn Castagna, former assistant to the CLAS dean, dies at 62

Monday, December 9, 2013

JoAnn Elisabeth Castagna died at her home in Iowa City on December 5 to the regret of her colleagues, family and friends. The cause was breast cancer, a malady she had prevailed against with fortitude and wit since she learned of her illness in December 2004.

JoAnn was born April 21, 1951, in New London, Connecticut, to Gina (née Palmisano) and Dr. Joseph Peter Castagna, a school superintendent. JoAnn attended Bard College, Manchester Community College, and Eastern Connecticut State College, where she received a B.A. in English and Sociology in 1975 with a Leadership Award in Sociology/Applied Social Relations.

In 1975 JoAnn moved to Chicago on the $1,000 first prize she had won in the 1974 Poets of America Award competition. In Chicago she worked as a sales assistant in the municipal bond business to support Poetry &, the poetry magazine and newsletter she founded and published monthly from July 1976 to July 1978, an influential forum that embraced diversity, encouraged many young writers, and helped make Chicago an exciting place to be a poet in those years.

In 1978 JoAnn moved to Iowa City, where she published Azimuth, a poetry review. She enrolled in the University of Iowa in 1979 and in her first year there was a member of the university’s undefeated radio champion College Bowl team. As a graduate student in American Studies, JoAnn served as a member of the Women’s Studies Advisory Board, gained recognition as an Outstanding Teaching Assistant, and in 1984 was awarded the Katherine Orne Memorial Scholarship. JoAnn received an M.A. in 1983 and a Ph.D. in 1989. She then worked at the university as an Undergraduate Academic Advisor, and later as an Assistant to the Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Her duties included serving as parliamentarian to the Faculty Senate, and her honors included a University of Iowa Outstanding Staff Award in 2006. After retiring in 2008, she continued an active writing and consulting schedule.

JoAnn received a fellowship to the American Antiquarian Society in 1990–91. She collaborated with Robin Radespiel on an essay about romance novels for the volume Women and Violence in Literature (Garland, 1990) and contributed articles to many reference books, including The Feminist Companion to Literature in English (Yale, 1990), The Oxford Companion to Women’s Writing in the United States (Oxford, 1995), Chronology of Women Worldwide (Gale, 1996), American National Biography (Oxford, 1999), Encyclopedia of the American Civil War (ABC-Clio, 2000), American Masculinities (Sage, 2003), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), Women in the American Civil War (ABC-Clio, 2008), Encyclopedia of African American History (ABC-Clio, 2010), and the article on Betty Crocker in Icons of American Cooking (Greenwood, 2011).

JoAnn was active in Democratic politics, from working with Studs Terkel in support of Fred Harris’s presidential bid in 1976 to being a precinct captain for Howard Dean in 2004 to chairing her precinct’s Democratic caucus in 2008. She was a partner in the online venture FolioDeux. She was for a time the restaurant reviewer for The Daily Iowan. And she was an avid knitter from the age of ten who most recently contributed tree hugs to the first two years of that downtown Iowa City winter program.

JoAnn is survived by her husband, Dan Campion of Iowa City; her mother, Gina Coughran, of Round Rock, Texas; her sister Gina Dabkowski and her husband Edward, of Becksville, Ohio, and their children Ed and Andrea; her brother Jason and his wife Maggy and their sons Gabriel and Jackson, of Falmouth, Maine; and dear aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, and colleagues.

JoAnn bequeathed her body to the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. In accord with her preference, no funeral or commemorative service will be held. Instead, an informal tea will be served at Prairie Lights Bookstore at a date and time to be announced. Online condolences may be sent to

JoAnn’s family offer thanks for their care and kindness to the UI Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Mercy Home Health Care, University of Iowa Community Health Care, and the Iowa City Hospice. Memorial contributions may be directed to any of those organizations, or to Iowa City’s Emma Goldman Clinic or Free Medical Clinic.

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Iowa is a comprehensive college offering 73 majors in the humanities; fine, performing and literary arts; natural and mathematical sciences; social and behavioral sciences; and communication disciplines. More than 17,000 undergraduate and 1,900 graduate students study each year in the college’s 37 departments, led by professors at the forefront of teaching and research in their disciplines. The college teaches all UI undergraduates through the General Education Program, and confers about 70 percent of the UI's bachelor's degrees each academic year.