UAB professor’s essay noted among America’s best

Kieran Quinlan, Ph.D., wrote a notable essay that chronicles his life growing up in Ireland.
quinlanUniversity of Alabama at Birmingham professor of English Kieran Quinlan, Ph.D., penned an essay that has been named a notable in “The Best American Essays 2013.”“That was very pleasing and unexpected,” said Quinlan, whose book “Strange Kin: Ireland and the American South” won the Landry Award for the best book in Southern studies from LSU Press.

“Kirwan Street, In Memory” was originally published last year in the “New Hibernia Review,” a multidisciplinary journal of Irish studies published by the University of St. Thomas. In it, Quinlan writes about growing up on Kirwan Street, a modest community situated between a convent and an asylum in Dublin, Ireland.

As a child, Quinlan was ashamed to tell people he lived there, because it wasn’t “prosperous” like other communities. His experience among the 43 row houses, however, shaped him, and he later went on to appreciate its gift.

“My friends who knew the truth teased me about the matter, and I too felt bad about not wanting to admit that I came from Kirwan Street. My aunt said you should never be ashamed of a thing like that. But I was, and I could see that I wasn’t going to change no matter who took me to task or how ridiculous I realized my attitude was. I was keenly aware that the boys who teased me all lived in slightly better houses than I did.”

Quinlan writes about wanting to be a member of the Jesuit religious order, which was a “swanky” and “well-educated” group. But people like him, from Kirwan Street, would have been considered second-class among the Jesuit ranks, he was told. Instead, Quinlan became a Trappist monk of Mount Melleray, drawn to joining a silent congregation, “where I would be lost forever, and no one would know or care where I came from.”

Quinlan’s essay and the other notables were selected by series editor Robert Atwan, an essayist and editor of several anthologies of literature. Jhumpa Lahiri, a Pulitzer Prize winner and finalist for the National Book Award, is also among this year’s group. Quinlan teaches from Lahiri’s works in his classes and is especially pleased to be listed with her.

Quinlan’s notable essay has made it into classrooms, too. Kerry Madden, assistant professor of English at UAB, teaches from “Kirwan Street” in her writing class.

“That has been fun,” Quinlan said. “Students I have had in the past have teased me.”

He 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 the life and writings of Nella Larsen. His essay, “From Cloister to Quad,” about his journey from the monastery to UAB, was recently published in the “Chronicle of Higher Education.”