Professor David Sergeant

Professor David Sergeant

Professor of English Literature

School of Society and Culture (Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business)



My work crosses creative and critical fields. Recent research has focused on issues of the future, the Anthropocene, systemic change, planetary scale, and utopian thought. My second monograph, The Near Future in 21st Century Fiction: Climate, Retreat and Revolution was published by Cambridge University Press in January 2023. My doctoral research focused on late nineteenth century literature and my first monograph, Kipling’s Art of Fiction, was published by Oxford University Press in 2013. I have also co-edited books on Robert Burns and on Doris Lessing, and my essays have appeared in journals such as Novel, Genre, Twentieth-Century Literature and Victorian Literature and Culture.

I am also the author of three collections and one pamphlet of poetry, and my poems have appeared in numerous journals in the UK and Europe, including the Guardian, Poetry Review, PN Review, Forward Book of the Year and Poetry Ireland. A collaboration for Faber with the composer Martin Suckling was performed at the Royal Opera House in 2014.

My undergraduate and postgraduate teaching ranges from the late eighteenth century to the present day. I have designed undergraduate modules on Apocalyptic Fiction and on Genre Writing, postgraduate modules on Poetry and the Environment and The Utopian Novel and Modernity, and have supervised critical and creative PhD dissertations ranging from poetry collections to novels to studies of ecocriticism.

I’ve led a number of public projects arising out of my research. From 2018 to 2020 I teamed up with Regen, a green energy not-for-profit, and various communities across South Devon, to explore how communal meals might act as one way of bringing elements of a ‘utopian’ future into our shared present. Since January 2022 I have led the project ‘Net-Zero Visions for the Devon Climate Emergency’, which encourages and supports individuals and communities in a reimagining of the places where they live, in support of the Devon Carbon Plan and its goal to transition the county to net-zero emissions by 2050. I have also worked with the Art and Energy Collective and Devon Communities Together on projects involving the reimagination of what we do, and why, in the context of climate crisis and the multiple other challenges facing us.

Before joining Plymouth I took a BA, MSt and DPhil from the University of Oxford, where I also held a three year postdoctoral research fellowship. My Masters and Doctoral study was funded by the AHRC, and I’ve been PI on grants totalling over £250k.

At Plymouth I’m Research Co-ordinator for English and Creative Writing. I was also a member of the ERDF funded Low Carbon Devon project team, was co-founder and co-coordinator of the Research Group ‘Environmental Cultures, and was a founding member and Steering Committee member of the UK Future Earth ECR and Practitioner Network (UKFE ECRP) for the UK national academies.


I took a BA, MSt and DPhil from the University of Oxford, where I was also the Mary Ewart Junior Research Fellow at Somerville College from 2010–2013. As I grew up and went to school in West Cornwall, moving to Plymouth marked a return to my Westcountry roots.



Teaching interests

Undergraduate teaching

I have taught topics and authors at undergraduate and postgraduate level from the late eighteenth century to the present day. At Plymouth I have designed and lead an undergraduate module on Apocalypse and the Modern Novel, which is informed by my research interest in issues such as global capitalism and environmental crisis, the evolution of the genre novel, and the representation of “unthinkable” change in literature: texts we study range from H. G. Wells to Kurt Vonnegut to Margaret Atwood. I also designed and lead a creative writing module, Genre Fiction, in which students sharpen their awareness of the matrix of genres they’re always working in, whether they’re conscious of it or not, and develop their writing in science fiction, historical fiction, crime/thriller, and ‘contemporary’ or ‘literary’ fiction.

Graduate teaching

I designed and led a MA module on Poetry and the Environment, which covers some of the major landmarks in recent “eco-critical” thinking through an extended focus on poetry, ranging from the Romantics to postcolonial Australian poetries. I also designed and lead a MA module on The Utopian Novel and Modernity, which is open to students on both the English and the Environmental Humanities MAs.

I have supervised four PhD projects to completion, and am currently a supervisor on six more. Dissertation topics include creative writing projects on Websleuths and Detective Fiction, Transcorporeality and Greek Mythology, and Diagram Poetry, and a critical project on the Anthropocene and Trauma.

I am always keen to hear from prospective doctoral students interested in topics relating to my research and creative interests. Get in touch!

Staff serving as external examiners

External examiner, University of Exeter (Penryn): 2016/17-19/20



Research interests

My critical research focuses mainly on literature from the late nineteenth century to the present day. My first monograph, Kipling’s Art of Fiction, was published by Oxford UP in 2013, and I have co-edited collections of essays on Robert Burns and Doris Lessing with Edinburgh University Press. From 2018-2020 I held an AHRC ECR Leadership Fellowship, during which I explored contemporary representations of the near future and the issues bound up in it: the resulting monograph, The Near Future in 21st Century Fiction: Climate, Retreat and Revolution came out from Cambridge UP in January 2023 and was included in the 2023 Summer Reading List for Parliamentarians. My essays have appeared in journals such as Novel, Genre, Twentieth-Century Literature and Victorian Literature and Culture.

I am also a creative writer – principally, at the moment, in poetry. I have published two collections with presses – Talk Like Galileo (Shearsman, 2013) and The Pronoun Utopia (Green Bottle Press, 2017) – and as an experiment saw a third, Common Sonnets, into print myself in a (very) limited edition (The Lief Press, 2021). A pamphlet, Birth Journey, was published by Lapwing in early 2022. My poems have appeared in numerous publications, including the Guardian, Poetry Review, PN Review, Forward Book of the Year and Poetry Ireland. A collaboration for Faber with the composer Martin Suckling was performed at the Royal Opera House in 2014; I also collaborated with Kayla Parker and Stuart Moore (Sundog Media) in 2021 to make a filmpoem, The Other Side of Now. My poetry has appeared in collaboration with art galleries in the UK, Canada and UAE, has been taken out to sea with Sonic Kayaks, and been used to help teachers of English in Danish upper-secondary education teach around the issue of climate change.

Wherever possible I like to get outside the university and explore how the work I'm doing might be shared with and informed by individuals and communities who are trying to make a difference where they live. From 2018-2020 ideas drawn from my research informed a series of 'utopian feasts', attempts to bring into the present the slice of a better future through the preparing and sharing of food, ideas, and aspirations, so as to support ongoing work. These events were held in partnership with Regen, a green energy not-for-profit; an artist-maker; and various communities across South Devon who were interested in how we might transition to a more sustainable energy system. For the project international contributors from a range of disciplines and backgrounds – from novelists to sociologists to historians to chefs – also contributed their thoughts on what might be involved in turning an everyday meal into something more utopian. You can read their contributions here – – as well as see more about the utopian feasts that took place.

Through 2022 I was PI on an AHRC project ‘Net-Zero Visions for the Devon Climate Emergency’, with Emma Whittaker from Low Carbon Devon as CI, and The Devon Climate Emergency Response Group as project partner. The project put communities together with creative professionals and net-zero transition experts to produce positive ‘Visions’ of six Devon locations as carbon net-zero in 2050, so as to raise public awareness of the Devon Carbon Plan, and engage people in the process and possibilities of change. Different locations had their Visions realised in different media: animation, illustration, interactive games, and public murals. A project website also encouraged and hosted submissions of individual net-zero visions, and at the end of the project a book of the Visions was produced, with a free copy distributed to public libraries across the county. I continue to support projects and initiatives which have rippled out from that central initiative, as well as working with a range of other organisations - including the Art and Energy Collective, Devon Communities Together, Planet & People - on projects that support communities in reimagining the places they live, and how they might live in them, in the face of the multiple interlinked challenges facing us today.

Research groups




Articles and Essays

  • ‘New Tech, Old Forms,’ invited essay for Special Edition of Novel: A Forum on Fiction,, eds. Penny Fielding and Andrew Taylor (edition under review).
  • From Realism to Utopia in Doris Lessing’s The Four-Gated City.’ Twentieth-Century Literature (July 2021).
  • ‘Space and/or Time.’ Modernism/Modernity Print Plus forum, ‘Realism and/or Modernism’, ed. Paul Stasi (Jan. 2021).
  • ‘Writing the Planet: Affect, Scale and Utopia.’ Novel: A Forum on Fiction 53: 1 (May, 2020): 1-15.*
  • ‘The Genre of the Near Future: Kim Stanley Robinson's New York 2140.' Genre 52: 1 (2019): 1-23.*
  • ‘"The worst dreams that ever I have": Capitalism and the Romance in R. L. Stevenson's Treasure Island'. Victorian Literature and Culture 44: 4 (2016), 907-23.
  • ‘Moortown (Diary)’, introductory essay for the Ted Hughes Society website (2012).
  • ‘Kipling’s Descriptions’. Essays in Criticism, 59: 4 (October 2009), 324-47.
  • ‘Changes in Rudyard Kipling’s Fiction on his Return to Britain’. English Literature in Transition, 52: 2 (2009), 144-59.
  • ‘Whispering to the Converted: Narrative Communication in Kipling’s Letters of Marque and Indian Fiction’. Modern Language Review, 104: 1 (January 2009), 26-40.
  • ‘Kipling’s Compositional Practice in Two Manuscripts’. Notes and Queries, 55: 4 (December, 2008), 465-7.


  • The Near Future in 21st Century Fiction: Climate, Retreat and Revolution. Cambridge UP, 2022.
  • Kipling’s Art of Fiction. Oxford University Press, 2013.

  • Doris Lessing and the Forming of History (with Kevin Brazil and Tom Sperlinger). Edinburgh University Press, 2016.
  • Burns and Other Poets (with Fiona Stafford). Edinburgh University Press, 2012 (paperback 2013).

  • Birth Journey. Lapwing Publications, 2022.
  • Common Sonnets. The Lief Press, 2021.
  • The Pronoun Utopia. Green Bottle Press, 2017.
  • Talk Like Galileo. Shearsman Books, 2010.


  • ‘Doris Lessing and the Location of Utopia,’ in The Cambridge Companion to British Utopian Literature and Culture, 1945-2020, ed. Caroline Edwards (under contract for 2022).
  • 'Doris Lessing and the Scale of Environmental Crisis’ in Doris Lessing and the Forming of History. Kevin Brazil, David Sergeant, Tom Sperlinger (eds). Edinburgh UP, 2016.
  • ‘Bodily Encounters with Capitalism on R. L. Stevenson’s Early Coasts’, in Coastal Cultures of the Long Nineteenth Century, ed. Matthew Ingleby and Matt Kerr (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, September 2018).
  • Ted Hughes’s Inner Music’ in Ted Hughes: From Cambridge to Collected. Terry Gifford, Neil Roberts, Mark Wormald (eds). Palgrave, 2013.
  • ‘Burns and the Performance of Form’ in Burns and Other Poets. Sergeant and Stafford (eds). EUP, 2012.

Other Publications

Reviews in: The Oxonian Review of Books, Notes and Queries, Eyewear, Modern Languages Review, Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation Review.

Poems in: Acumen, Agenda, Ambit, Archipelago, Cake, Envoi, The Forward Book of Poetry, The Guardian, The London Magazine, New Welsh Review, NightTrain, the North, nthposition, Pen Pusher, Poetry Daily, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Review, PN Review, Poetry Wales, Prac Crit, The Reader, Rialto, Salzburg Review, Stand, Stride, the Warwick Review.


  • Songs from a Bright September, poems set to music by Martin Suckling (FaberMusic, 2014). Premiered by the Angell Trio and Matthew Rose at BlackheathHalls, Hartley Whitney and the Royal Opera House.
  • Poetry installation inexhibition 'Unnatural Pleasures', Radiant Spring Gallery, Plymouth,27 Feb. - 17 April 2015
  • Poem taken out to sea by the Sonic Kayaks project