Baylor University English Professor Receives Prestigious Award for Literary Scholarship and CriticismMarch 31, 2015
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Media contact: Terry Goodrich, (254) 710-3321
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
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