Baylor University English Professor Receives Prestigious Award for Literary Scholarship and Criticism

Richard Russell
Richard Rankin Russell courtesy photo.
March 31, 2015

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WACO, Texas (March 31, 2015) – “Seamus Heaney’s Regions,” a book by Richard Rankin Russell, Ph.D., graduate program director and professor of English in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences, has been awarded the 2014 Robert Penn Warren-Cleanth Brooks Award for literary scholarship and criticism.

“When I heard I won the award, I was in shock and disbelief,” Russell said, “especially because the previous winners, including Sir Frank Kermode, John Hollander, Richard Strier, Marjorie Perloff and Ron Schuchard, are all such wonderful and influential poetry critics. I don’t really belong even in that sentence with them!”

In “Seamus Heaney’s Regions,” Russell examines how the region of Northern Ireland provided much of the subject matter for the work of poet Seamus Heaney, winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize in literature. In his work, Heaney explored, recorded and preserved both the disappearing agrarian life of his origins and the dramatic rise of sectarianism and the subsequent outbreak of the Northern Irish “Troubles” beginning in the late 1960s. At the same time, he consistently imagined a new region of Northern Ireland where the conflicts that have long beset it and, by extension, the relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom might be synthesized and resolved. Finally, there is a third region Heaney committed himself to explore and map—the spirit region, that world beyond our ken. According to Russell, these regions offer the best understanding of Heaney’s poetry, prose, translations and drama. Russell examines Heaney’s work from before his first published poetry volume, “Death of a Naturalist,” to his most recent volume, “Human Chain,” providing the most comprehensive examination of the poet’s work to date.

The Robert Penn Warren-Cleanth Brooks Award honors the legacy of Robert Penn Warren, a poet who shared with Seamus Heaney a commitment to the ongoing relevance of regional culture in an interconnected world.

“I’m delighted to learn that Dr. Russell has received such a prestigious award,” said Jim Bennighof, Ph.D., Baylor vice provost for academic affairs and policy. “We have long known that his work is absolutely first-rate and are deeply gratified that the judges have recognized his ability to articulate the rich way that he perceives Seamus Heaney’s poetry to relate his own individual experience to larger concerns and themes. Establishing this sort of connection between the personal and the universal is a central focus of the arts and humanities, and it thus speaks eloquently on behalf of Baylor.”

According to the letter sent to Russell announcing his award, the judges were struck by the rigor and depth of scholarship “Seamus Heaney’s Regions” possesses, namely the original assessment of Heaney as a poet whose work connects the local and immediate with the wide-angle concerns of modernity.

“The award certainly will garner more recognition for my work on a national, even international, basis,” Russell said, “but more important, it will gain recognition for Baylor.”

Russell’s research interests include modern and contemporary British and Irish literature. He received his Ph.D. and M.A. from the University of North Carolina and his M.Phil. from the University of Glasgow. His additional publications include “Modernity, Community, and Place in Brian Friel’s Drama” and “Poetry and Peace: Michael Longley, Seamus Heaney, and Northern Ireland.” He was the Baylor University Centennial Professor of 2012.

“I know the award recognizes close reading, and my book does a great deal of that with Heaney’s poems, dramas, essays and translations while also grounding them in their cultural, historical and religious contexts,” Russell said.

by Ashton Brown, student newswriter, (254) 710-6805

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.

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The College of Arts & Sciences is Baylor University’s oldest and largest academic division, consisting of 24 academic departments and 13 academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. Faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines. Visit www.baylor.edu/artsandsciences.

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