Daniel Quinn


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Daniel Clarence Quinn was an American author (primarily novelist and fabulist), cultural critic, and publisher of educational texts, best known for his novel Ishmael, which won the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Award in 1991 and was published the following year. Quinn's ideas are popularly associated with environmentalism, though he criticized this term for portraying the environment as separate from human life, thus creating a false dichotomy. Instead, Quinn referred to his philosophy as "new tribalism."

Daniel Quinn was born in Omaha, Nebraska, where he graduated from Creighton Preparatory School. He went on to study at Saint Louis University, at the University of Vienna, Austria, through IES Abroad, and at Loyola University, receiving a bachelor's degree in English cum laude in 1957. He delayed part of this university education, however, while a postulant at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Bardstown, Kentucky, where he hoped to become a Trappist monk; however, his spiritual director, Thomas Merton, prematurely ended Quinn's postulancy. 

Quinn went into publishing, abandoned his Catholic faith, and married twice unsuccessfully before marrying Rennie MacKay Quinn, his third and final wife of 42 years. In 1975, Quinn left his career as a publisher to become a freelance writer. He is best known for his book Ishmael (1992), which won the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Award in 1991. Several judges disputed giving the entire $500,000 award to Quinn for Ishmael rather than dividing the money among several authors, though judge Ray Bradbury, for one, supported the decision. Ishmael became the first of a loose trilogy of novels by Quinn, including The Story of B and My Ishmael, all of which brought increasing fame to Quinn throughout the 1990s. 

He became a well-known author to followers of the environmental, simple living, and anarchist movements, although he did not strongly self-identify with any of these. Quinn traveled widely to lecture and discuss his books. While the response to Ishmael was mostly very positive, Quinn's ideas have inspired the most controversy with a claim mentioned in Ishmael but made much more forcefully in The Story of B's Appendix that the total human population grows and shrinks according to food availability. With the catastrophic real-world conclusions, he draws from this.

In 1998, Quinn collaborated with environmental biologist Alan D. Thornhill in producing Food Production and Population Growth, a video elaborating in-depth on the science behind the ideas he describes in his fiction. Quinn's book Tales of Adam was released in 2005 after a long bankruptcy scuffle with its initial publisher. It is designed to be a look through the animist's eyes in seven short tales; Quinn first explores the idea of animism as the original worldwide religion and as his own dogma-free belief system in The Story of B and his autobiography, Providence: The Story of a Fifty-Year Vision Quest.

In February 2018, Quinn died of aspiration pneumonia in hospice care. Ishmael directly inspired the 1998 Pearl Jam album Yield (and particularly the song "Do the Evolution") and the Chicano Batman song "The Taker Story" on their 2017 album Freedom is Free. In 2019 The Mammals, a folk band including Mike Merenda & Ruth Ungar, released Nonet with many of the songs on it inspired by Ishmael and other Quinn books, most especially Beyond Civilization.

Quinn's writings have also influenced the filmmaker Tom Shadyac (who featured Quinn in the documentary I Am), the entrepreneur Ray C. Anderson, founder of Interface, Inc. (the world's largest manufacturer of modular carpet), who began transforming Interface with more green initiatives; as well as some of the ideology behind the 1999 drama film Instinct, and the 2007 documentary film What A Way To Go: Life at the End of Empire. Playwright Derek Ahonen has cited Quinn as the foremost influence on his play, The Pied Pipers of The Lower East Side, which attempts to dramatize the philosophies of New Tribalism.

Actor Morgan Freeman's interest in the Ishmael trilogy inspired his involvement with nature documentaries, such as Island of Lemurs: Madagascar and Born to Be Wild, both of which he narrated while adopting from Quinn the phrase "the tyranny of agriculture." Punk rock band Rise Against includes Ishmael on their album The Sufferer & the Witness reading list, and its sequel, My Ishmael, inspired the name of the band Animals as Leaders.

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