The award is presented by the UAB College of Arts and Sciences to a full-time faculty member for professional and academic achievements and contributions to the university and local community. The prize, made possible by the Caroline P. and Charles W. Ireland Endowment for Scholarly Distinction, comes with $5,000 and a Steuben crystal engraved award.
“I’m both very surprised and very happy to receive the Ireland Award and to find myself among a group of earlier winners whose accomplishments have inspired me to aim higher,” Quinlan said. “Above all, I’m pleased to have contributed to ‘the music of what happens’ at UAB.”
Quinlan is an acclaimed writer and scholar whose specialty is in 20th century American and Irish literature with emphasis on writers from the American South. He wrote three books: “John Crowe Ransom’s Secular Faith,” “Walker Percy, The Last Catholic Novelist,” and “Strange Kin: Ireland and the American South,” which won the Landry Award for the best book in Southern studies from LSU Press.
He has also published essays in such journals as The Southern Review, The Kenyon Review and World Literature Today. His recent work Kirwan Street, In Memory was named a notable in The Best American Essays 2013. In it, Quinlan writes about growing up on Kirwan Street, a modest community situated between a convent and an asylum in Dublin, Ireland. Later, under the influence of the American monk Thomas Merton, he entered a Trappist monastery to live a life of silence. Quinlan wrote about that in his essay From Cloister to Quad, which was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
“Dr. Quinlan’s scholarship, while focused on 20th century literature, is actually probing questions that are as old as human civilization: questions of belief and doubt as they are shaped by the myriad other cultural forces in the evolution of civilization,” said Robert Palazzo, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “His most current project, interpretations of the work of the late poet and Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, are particularly insightful and timely. We are fortunate to have such a broad thinker among our faculty, and the students are most fortunate to have him as a resource as they ponder these age-old questions for themselves.”
Quinlan, who earned a B.A. degree in philosophy and psychology from Oxford University and a Ph.D. degree in literature from Vanderbilt, is working on a book about the late Irish poet Seamus Heaney and religion, an autobiographical response to the ongoing God debate, and a study of similar issues in the life and writings of Nella Larsen of Harlem Renaissance fame.
“Dr. Quinlan epitomizes the highest standards of scholarly achievement,” said Associate Professor of English Alison Chapman, Ph.D., who nominated him for the honor. “The unusual conjunction about Dr. Quinlan — Irish born and educated on the one hand, Southern scholar on the other — has fueled his remarkable success as a writer.”