John Ryle (anthropologist)

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John Rowland Ryle

John Ryle teaching on Rift Valley Institute Sudans Course
John Ryle teaching on Rift Valley Institute Sudans Course
BornShrewsbury, Shropshire, United Kingdom
OccupationWriter, anthropologist, film-maker, editor
GenreEthnography, reportage, essays, literary criticism
SubjectEastern Africa, Brazil, Human Rights, Religion, Visual Arts, Music and Literature

John Rowland Ryle OBE is a British writer, anthropologist, social activist, filmmaker, teacher and publisher, with an interest in the history and culture of Eastern Africa.[1] He is co-founder of the Rift Valley Institute, and Legrand Ramsey Professor of Anthropology at Bard College, New York.


His father, John Creagh Ryle, a medical doctor and alpinist, was a general practitioner in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, where Ryle was born.[2] His mother, Melody Ryle,[3] née Jackson, was a stalwart of the local Family Planning Association and a noted amateur botanist and gardener. Ryle is a grandson of the pioneer of social medicine John Alfred Ryle, a nephew of the astronomer Sir Martin Ryle, a great-nephew of the philosopher Gilbert Ryle, and a great-great grandson of John Charles Ryle, evangelical Bishop of Liverpool in the last decades of the nineteenth century.

Life and work[edit]

Ryle was educated at Shrewsbury School and Oxford University, where he graduated in English Language and Literature. He pursued postgraduate studies in social anthropology, conducting fieldwork among the Agar Dinka communities in today's South Sudan. In 1975 he became an assistant editor at The Times Literary Supplement. During the printers' strike at Times Newspapers, he founded, with Richard Boston, the acclaimed but short-lived periodical Quarto (1978–1981).[citation needed] From 1982 to 1986 he worked for the Sunday Times in London as Deputy Literary Editor and, subsequently, as a feature writer. He has written for the London Review of Books,[4] the New York Review of Books,[5] the New Yorker,[6] the Los Angeles Times and various scholarly periodicals, and is a contributing editor of Granta.[7]

Ryle also worked as a doorman at the Embassy Club in Bond Street, London, as a roustabout for the Royal American Shows and the Canadian Pacific Railway,[8] as ghost-writer of Mick Jagger's unpublished autobiography,[9][10] and as a travel writer.[11]

In the late 1980s, Ryle was a project officer at the Ford Foundation in Brazil and lived in an Afro-Brazllian community in Salvador da Bahia. In the 1990s, he worked as a consultant to relief and development organisations in Sudan and the Horn of Africa, including Save the Children Fund (UK). His weekly newspaper column, "City of Words", appeared in The Guardian from 1995 to 1999. From 1996 to 1997, he was a research fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford. In the 1990s he became an activist in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

From 2001 to 2017, Ryle was successively chair and executive director of the Rift Valley Institute, a research and public information organisation operating in Eastern Africa that he founded with Jok Madut Jok and Philip Winter. He was a member of the International Eminent Persons Group, reporting on slavery and abduction in Sudan.[12][13] Since 2007, he has been Legrand Ramsey Professor of Anthropology at Bard College, a liberal arts college in New York state. He has been a board member of the Human Rights Watch Africa Division, the Media Development Investment Fund and the scholarly journal African Affairs.[14]

In 2022 he established a publishing company, City of Words, concentrating on works of reportage, life-writing and general non-fiction.

Ryle was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen's 2021 Birthday Honours for services to research and education in Sudan, South Sudan and the Horn of Africa.[15][16][14]

Selected bibliography[edit]


  • Ryle, John; Willis, Justin; Baldo, Suliman; Madut Jok, Jok, eds. (2012). The Sudan Handbook (digital ed.). London: Rift Valley Institute. ISBN 978-1847010308.
  • Warriors of the White Nile: the Dinka (Time-Life Books, 1982) with Sarah Errington ISBN 978-0-7054-0700-7

Technical reports and academic research[edit]

Essays, reporting and other contributions[edit]


Film and video[edit]


  1. ^ Ascherson, N. (2 August 2012) "How It Felt to Be There", London Review of Books.
  2. ^ "John Creagh Ryle 1915-2000". John Ryle. Retrieved 5 April 2021.
  3. ^ Ryle, John. "Melody Ryle 1917-2007".
  4. ^ London Review of Books (ed.). "Contributor John Ryle".
  5. ^ New York Review of Books (ed.). "Contributor John Ryle".
  6. ^ The New Yorker (ed.). "Search contributor by name: John Ryle".
  7. ^ "John Ryle". Granta.
  8. ^ Ryle, J. (1996). "Brit Crits Nix Car Wreck Sex Flick". City of Words.
  9. ^ Rolling Stone (26 May 1983), "Ghosting the story of Mick Jagger", Rolling Stone.
  10. ^ Hind, J. (13 September 1997), "Start me up... again", The Independent.
  11. ^ Lau, J. (1988), Interview with Joan Lau: Travels of Discovery
  12. ^ Ross, O. (2003) Research reclaims Sudan's 'lost souls'; Team put names, facesto those abducted, sold into slavery Investigation identified 11,000 people
  13. ^ Skinner, E. B. (2008) A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery, Free Press.
  14. ^ a b "Bard College Anthropology Professor John Ryle Awarded an OBE, Officer of the Order of the British Empire". Bard College. 21 June 2021.
  15. ^ "No. 63377". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 June 2021. p. B25.
  16. ^ "RVI Founder John Ryle Awarded OBE". Rift Valley Institute. 17 June 2021.