Callahan, Gerald N. 1946–

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Callahan, Gerald N. 1946–


Born 1946, in Coffeyville, KS; married (wife deceased); married Gina Mohr. Education: University of Utah, B.S., 1969, Ph.D., 1974.


Office—Department of Pathology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1671. E-mail—[email protected]


Immunologist, pathologist, writer, and educator. Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, associate professor in Department of Pathology.


Artist Fellowship Award in Literary Arts, Colorado Council on the Arts, 1999.


River Odyssey: A Story of the Colorado Plateau (essays and poems), University Press of Colorado (Boulder, CO), 1998.

Faith, Madness, and Spontaneous Human Combustion: What Immunology Can Teach Us about Self-Perception, Thomas Dune Books/St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2002.

Infection: The Uninvited Universe, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to scientific journals, including Nature, Journal of Experimental Medicine, Journal of Immunology, European Journal of Immunology, and Immunology; contributor of poems and essays to periodicals, including Creative Nonfiction, Terra Nova, Cream City Review, Southern Poetry Review, Puerto Del Sol, MacGuffin, Midwest Quarterly, Bridge, and Pacific Review. Also writes a column with wife, Gina Mohr-Callahan, for Fort Collins Coloradoan.

Author's work has been translated into Japanese and Portuguese.


Gerald N. Callahan writes about life and nature when he is not working as a professor of immunology. River Odyssey: A Story of the Colorado Plateau features some of the author's essays and poems. In the book, Callahan writes about his hiking adventures across seven years—from the heights of the Colorado Rockies Never Summer Range to the deserts and arroyos of northern Mexico. Callahan does not write "nature adventure" stories, but rather narratives about how nature works its changes on him. "I drink too much," he writes at one point in the collection. "I eat like myocardial infarctions and colon cancer don't kill middle-aged men, and every morning I swear I'll change, but nothing ever changes. Except times in the desert, and especially except times in the desert near water." Callahan weaves many details from his inner life into his outdoor tapestry—anxiety over a prostate exam, fear while climbing a rock face, recollections of a childhood scalding accident that nearly killed him. Adding to the book's homey feeling are snapshots of Callahan's friends and family.

Callahan won a 1999 Colorado Artist Fellowship Award in Literary Arts, and one of the sample writing pieces he submitted for review for the prize was "Chimera," an essay about loss and memory. As Callahan tells it, the inspiration for the piece came from a supernatural experience in a cafe. He saw his ex-wife—who had been dead for ten years—walk in, order a muffin and coffee, and walk out without acknowledging his presence. "No one knows how much of our reality comes to us from the physical world and how much ‘reality’ we create inside our own minds," Callahan writes in "Chimera." Drawing on his experiences as an immunologist, he explains that the body's immune system carries its own memories: "The memories stored inside our immune system can come back, like my first wife, at unexpected moments, with sometimes startling consequences." In the essay he writes of what happens to married couples over time, how they come to anticipate each other, think alike, and sometimes even look alike. He explains how one partner copes when faced with utterly losing the other partner: "We force a bit of what is inside us out there, out into the real world, to create someone or something that will help us slow the universe for a moment while we repaint our picture of ourselves—repaint, with a very small brush, a very large canvas." Friends in the creative writing department suggested the title of the essay to Callahan. He knew the term "chimera" from biology to mean an organism that incorporates cells from two entirely different species. His colleagues informed him that the word can also be used to name a creature of the imagination. "Chimera" is the first of a projected series of nine essays about what the disciplines of medicine and health sciences can tell us about our psyches.

Callahan's next book, Faith, Madness, and Spontaneous Human Combustion: What Immunology Can Teach Us about Self-Perception, combines personal anecdotes with science writing in twelve essays. The essays focus primarily on the author's idea that "the immune system literally and metaphorically forms the basis for our identity," as noted by a Publishers Weekly contributor. In the essays, Callahan discusses various aspects of the immune system, including its role in differentiating between self and non-self to protect against bacterial, viral, and other invaders that can cause illness and disease. He also writes of immunological memory and its ability to recall organisms that the biological system has battled by storing bits and pieces of these invaders within our own bodies. According to the author, this memory is just as responsible for our individual identities as are the memories we keep within our minds. "It is hard to think of a … reader who wouldn't be intrigued by this fascinating book," wrote William Beatty in Booklist.

In his book Infection: The Uninvited Universe, Callahan writes about the naturally occurring bacteria in our bodies and the various roles they serve, such as helping digest food and battle illness. The author discusses a wide range of issues, including the role bacteria has played in evolution and the various diseases that may be caused or partially caused by a lack of exposure to some infections. "Callahan writes of an at-times unpleasant topic in clear, reader-friendly language," wrote Donna Chavez in Booklist. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that "human-interest stories and vivid accounts of historic events enliven his text."



Callahan, Gerald N., River Odyssey: A Story of the Colorado Plateau, University Press of Colorado (Boulder, CO), 1998.


Booklist, January 1, 2002, William Beatty, review of Faith, Madness, and Spontaneous Human Combustion: What Immunology Can Teach Us about Self-Perception, p. 787; November 15, 2006, Donna Chavez, review of Infection: The Uninvited Universe, p. 14.

Discover, March 1, 2002, Maia Weinstock, review of Faith, Madness, and Spontaneous Human Combustion, p. 78.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2006, review of Infection, p. 935.

Publishers Weekly, December 17, 2001, review of Faith, Madness, and Spontaneous Human Combustion, p. 74.

Science News, January 13, 2007, review of Infection, p. 31.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), March 30, 2003, review of Faith, Madness, and Spontaneous Human Combustion, p. 6.


Colorado State University Department of English Web site, (June 3, 2007), "Gerald N. Callahan."

Greyrock Writer's Festival—University of Colorado Web site, (June 3, 2007), "Gerald N. Callahan."