A UCLA English and literature professor who has written about African American and Jewish cultures was chosen for a $1.5-million award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, officials announced Tuesday.
Eric J. Sundquist, UCLA's first winner of Mellon's Distinguished Achievement Award, said he would use the funds to continue his research into the role of the Holocaust in American literature and, following foundation rules, to sponsor conferences and visiting lectures at UCLA over three years.
The New York-based Mellon awards, begun in 2001, are said to be the largest prize in the humanities.
The grants are formally given to the winners' home campus, but the scholars develop a shared spending plan.
In contrast, the MacArthur Foundation's so-called genius grants of $500,000 over five years allow scientists, artists and academics to spend the money as they please.
Among the three other Mellon award recipients is Richard White, a Stanford University historian who has concentrated on the North American West, environmental history and Native Americans and is now working on a history of the railroads.
Yale University musicologist Ellen Rosand and Peter Schafer, a Princeton professor of religion and Judaic studies, also received awards.
"I was aware of the award and understand it as a great honor and great opportunity, but I certainly wasn't expecting it," said Sundquist, 54, who also has taught at UC Berkeley and at Vanderbilt and Northwestern universities.
He has held administrative posts at UCLA and at Northwestern, where he was dean of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.
Among other works, Sundquist wrote "To Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature," a 1993 book that examines authors from before the Civil War to 1930.
Last year, he published "Strangers in the Land: Blacks, Jews, Post-Holocaust America," about the relationships between two ethnic groups in literature and culture.
A book about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech is in the works.
The Mellon announcement described Sundquist as "one of the most accomplished scholars of American literature" and White at Stanford as a superb historian with "conceptual daring and imaginative argumentation."