Professor Tom Sperlinger

B.A.(Liv.), M.St.(Oxon.), PGCHE (Bristol)

  • BS8 1TH

Personal profile

Research interests

My role was inherited from the university's former Extra-Mural Studies department, and my work continues to focus on a combination of lifelong learning, literary study, and civic engagement.

My current interests focus on dangerous books; questions about who universities are for, wider access to education, and adult education; the future of universities, including in times of climate crisis; and the relationships between literary works and radical pedagogy (especially Paulo Freire). In my literary work, I have published on George Eliot, Doris Lessing, and Palestinian literature. I also write creative non-fiction and poetry.

I am currently editing the Routledge Companion to Dangerous Books, with Emma Crowley, which will bring together 60 contributors to provide the first, interdisciplinary survey of the reading, writing, and teaching of radical literature (and of literature made radical under duress) and its dual role as a site of refuge and place of dissent.

I am also writing about how universities can be re-made in an era of climate change, for a forthcoming essay collection What are universities for?, based on a keynote lecture at a conference of the same name at the University of Regina in May 2023.

I recently completed a book that combines memoir about fathers and sons and my family history with an account of a reading group I ran with Ideal Community Action, a charity in Barton Hill. I was promoted to Professor in 2017 and my inaugural lecture, Reading Seamus Heaney in Barton Hill: Literature, communities, universities, in 2019, also draws on my work with Ideal.

All of my work cuts across boundaries of pedagogy, writing/research, and practice. For example, my thinking about the future of universities is informed by my roles as academic lead for engagement for Bristol’s new Temple Quarter campus and as chief academic officer for Black Mountains College, where I led the design of a new interdisciplinary degree programme (see below). The Companion I am working on draws on an undergraduate unit I designed in 2013 on Dangerous Books.

Lifelong learning

I designed the part-time BA in English Literature and Community Engagement (ELCE) which launched in 2008 and, with Richard Pettigrew, the Foundation Year in Arts and Social Sciences (CertHE), which has been running since 2013.

I have also designed many short adult education courses, including with partner organisations working with migrant communities, single parents, and communities affected by addiction or involved in the criminal justice system. I was course director for the part-time Diploma in Creative Writing from 2004 to 2010.

Civic engagement

I am academic lead for engagement for the new Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus, where I am leading a major programme that resets the University's relationships with local communities and its civic mission. Key initiatives so far include developing a micro-campus with partners at the Wellspring Settlement in Barton Hill (which opened in 2020) and JOIN US!, a new initiative to recruit staff to the University, working with community organisations.


I am author of Romeo and Juliet in Palestine, a memoir about a semester I spent teaching at Al-Quds University, which was reviewed in The Observer. I'm also co-author of Who are universities for?, a manifesto for creating more inclusive universities. It's been reviewed in the LSE Review of Books.

Romeo and Juliet in Palestine was published in an Arabic translation in 2021 by the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center in Ramallah and Al-Raqamiya; the translation is by students at An-Najah University.

I'm co-editor of Doris Lessing and the Forming of History.

I also write long reads, features, books reviews, and comment pieces for publications including The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement and London Review of Books; see my personal website. I've published a poem in Raceme and four poems in the Oxford Magazine.

Teaching interests

I teach nineteenth- and twentieth-century prose writing and study skills courses for adult learners, among other topics. I have taught an undergraduate course on Dangerous Books since 2013 and recently taught a course that considered nineteenth-century prose writing, both fiction and non-fiction (Dickens, Eliot, Darwin, Mayhew, Hazlitt and more).

Other interests and external roles

Alongside my work at Bristol, I am chief academic officer for Black Mountains College, a new college in Talgarth that is dedicated to reimagining education at a time of ecological crisis. I have led the creation of a new undergraduate degree at BMC, in Sustainable Futures: Arts, Ecology, and Systems Change and contribute to the strategic leadership of the College, including its further education and short courses. I have been an external examiner for programmes at Birkbeck (2016 to 2020) and Gloucestershire (2015 to 2019).

I am a fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts. I was co-editor of The Brodie Press from 2002 to 2015; our books included two poetry collections by Julie-ann Rowell, recognised by the Poetry Book Society and shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Prize respectively.