Richard O'Brien

Richard O'Brien

Department of Film and Creative Writing
Teaching Fellow in Creative Writing

Contact details

University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Widely published poet, 2017 Eric Gregory Award winner, and specialist in early modern theatre and the development of verse drama from Shakespeare to the present day. Interested in form, politics, contemporary poetry, and the borderline between critical and creative approaches. I also write plays, and won the 2015 Ben Jonson Journal Discoveries Award for an article on fictional representations of Jonson. 


  • PhD in Shakespeare Studies. Thesis: ‘Shakespeare and the Development of Verse Drama’ - The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham (2014-present)
  • MA Shakespeare and Creativity - The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham (2013-14) 
  • BA English and French - Brasenose College, University of Oxford (2008-2012)


I grew up in Lincolnshire and took my BA at Brasenose College, Oxford, in English and French. After graduating in 2012, I spent six months working as a radio host for a live daily English language show. I returned to academia the following year to take up a place in the first cohort for the Shakespeare Institute’s MA in Shakespeare and Creativity, where I am currently completing my PhD: a wide-ranging study of the development of verse drama from Shakespeare to the present day, incorporating elements of creative practice.

 My academic interests span from the 16th century to contemporary poetry, and I am always looking for ways to bridge the gap between them, as well as the more significant gap between critical and creative practice. Alongside writing creatively, I am a specialist in early modern theatre, and guest teach on the Shakespeare Institute's innovative 'Shakespearience' Masters module. In March 2017, I was Global Premodern Studies Visiting Professor at the University of Minnesota. My work in this field has been published in the Ben Jonson Journal, and presented at international conferences including the International Federation for Theatre Research (Stockholm, 2016) and the Shakespeare Association of America (2017).

My poetry has been published in three pamphlets with UK-based independent presses, and has featured in magazines including Poetry London, The White Review and The Literateur, as well as a number of anthologies: a full list of publications is available on my personal website. I have performed at the BBC Proms for a Radio 3 broadcast, translated work from French and Latvian, and edited anthologies for the Emma Press, where I am currently a commisioning editor. In 2017 I was one of six winners of the Society of Authors' Eric Gregory Award. I also write for children and do school visits for Pop Up Projects. My first play for children, an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Selfish Giant, premiered at the Arcola Theatre, London, in December 2016.


I teach primarily on the first-year Creative Writing Foundation module of Birmingham's BA in English and Creative Writing. I also supervise the online forum for and offer guest teaching on 'Shakespearience', a module on the innovative 'Shakespeare and Creativity' MA at the Shakespeare Institute, led by Ewan Fernie.

From 2015-2017, as a postgraduate teaching assistant at the University of Birmingham, I delivered the BA English 'Poetry' module, introducing undergraduate students to a range of canonical poetry from the 16th century to the present day.

As well as the research interests listed below, which include a wide knowledge of early modern theatre and subsequent verse drama (includng the plays of the Restoration, the Romantic era and the 1940s and 50s) my specific areas of expertise in creative writing tuition are: poetry, with a particular interest in the aesthetic and political uses of form; poetry in translation; editorial practice; playwriting; and poetry and theatre for children.


Contemporary poetry; the development of verse drama in Britain from the 16th century to the present day, particularly as understood in dialogue with Shakespeare; fictional depictions of Shakespeare and especially Shakespeare’s contemporaries, with a focus on Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe; incidental uses of Shakespeare in popular music and pop culture; the relationship between politics and poetic form; depictions of class in post-war British literature and music, including a project on the songwriter Jake Thackray (

Other activities

I am a Commisioning Editor for the Emma Press, a regional press of growing national importance (featured in The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, BBC Radio 6 Music), developing poetry anthologies for adults and publications for children. I have also chaired two conferences — 'Out of Practice', an event showcasing practice led research, in collaboration with Tom White (June 2016), and the 2015 British Graduate Shakespeare Conference, the largest postgraduate event of its kind in early modern drama.

In 2016 I served as an academic consultant with Professor Ewan Fernie on ‘Our Shakespeare’ — the Library of Birmingham’s 2016 Shakespeare Exhibition, in collaboration with partners from the Library of Birmingham and the British Library. I have also produced schools resources for the Poetry Society, and participated in the Pop Up Festival arts programme in primary schools in Hackney and Telford to deliver writing workshops based around the CLiPPA-shortlisted children's poetry anthology Falling Out of the Sky (Emma Press, 2015). 


Journal articles

·  ‘“Put not / Beyond the sphere of your activity”: The Fictional Afterlives of Ben Jonson.’ — The Ben Jonson Journal 23.2 (2016): 169–191. Winner of the 2016 Ben Jonson Discoveries Award ($500).

Book chapters

·      ‘Shakespeare Unbard: Negotiating Civic Shakespeare.’ New Places: Shakespeare and Civic Creativity — The Arden Shakespeare, 2017. Co-written with Hester Bradley. Forthcoming.

Creative writing (Selected)


·      As translator: The Noisy Classroom by Ieva Samauska (The Emma Press). Co-translated from the Latvian, with bridge translations produced by Sara Smith and Zanete Pasqualini. Publishing June 2017.

·      As editor: an anthology of poems on the theme of British customs and rituals for The Emma Press, co-edited with Emma Wright. Publication date and title TBD.

·      As editor: This is Not Your Final Form: Poems about Birmingham (The Emma Press). Co-edited with Emma Wright, also comprising winning entries to the inaugural Verve competition chosen by Hanna Silva.


·      The Selfish Giant. Commissioned to adapt Oscar Wilde’s story for a family Christmas show at the Arcola Theatre.


·      Pamphlet, A Bloody Mess, published by Dead Ink/Valley Press.

·      Free-for-All, a verse play about free schools, performed 17th-29th August at theSpace@Surgeons Hall during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, funded by the Midlands3Cities Doctoral Training Partnership. In January 2016 a remounted production toured to Nottingham Contemporary, Leicester's Hansom Hall and mac birmingham.

·      ‘Ginnungagap’ and ‘Apollo Comes to Town’ in Falling Out of the Sky – an Emma Press children’s anthology featuring poems about myths and monsters, mentioned by the Guardian as a ‘poetry book every child must read’, shortlisted for the CliPPA award.


·      Pamphlet, The Emmores, published by The Emma Press.


·      A selection of work in The Salt Book of Younger Poets.


·      your own devices, pamphlet published by tall-lighthouse press in the Pilot series.