Celebrating literary successes

Wednesday 27 July 2022


The following article was first published in this year's edition of The Wheel, the College's annual newsletter, in July 2022. 

The St Catharine’s community has a proud history of shaping the literary world. In celebration of all our Members with literary talents throughout the ages, we wanted to take a moment to feature the contributions of a few individuals past and present.

James Shirley (1615)

Playwright and poet James Shirley (1596–1666) became the principal writer for Queen Henrietta’s Men (1625–36), John Ogilby in Dublin (1636–40) and the King’s Men (1640–42) prior to the English Civil War. He wrote nearly 40 plays before Parliament suppressed theatre in 1642. Oxford University Press’s forthcoming Complete Works of James Shirley draws upon our Library's fine collection of early editions of Shirley's plays. This edition will also feature commentary by Fellow Dr Hester LeesJeffries (2006) on Shirley’s play The Example.

Nadia Lines, second-year English undergraduate and President of the College's Shirley Society, comments:

“The Shirley Society is thought to be the oldest literary society in Cambridge. The College holds records that the Society was founded in 1919 and continues to this day. Once a week students gather to read aloud their favourite pieces of literature to each other over wine. The atmosphere is at once reverent, intellectual, and fun. Long may the Shirley Society live!”

T. R. Henn (1919, English)

Born in Sligo, T. R. Henn (1901–74) came to St Catharine’s as an Exhibitioner. He was elected to a Fellowship in 1926 and later served as Senior Tutor (1945–47) and President (1951–61). He was also a soldier (promoted to brigadier during the Second World War), an angler (the author of Practical Fly-Tying), a poet and an essayist of some style. He specialised in the teaching of poetry, particularly Yeats, and also wrote two books on Shakespeare. Henn kindled an enthusiasm for English literature amongst his students, including Sir Ian McKellen (1958, English; Honorary Fellow 1982) and Sir Peter Hall (1950, English; Honorary Fellow 1964).

Malcolm Lowry (1929, English)

Malcolm Lowry (1909–57) wrote his first novel, Ultramarine, while an undergraduate at St Catharine’s. During his lifetime, he published only one other book, the modernist masterpiece Under the Volcano, set on a single day in a small Mexican town. He spent much of his time as an undergraduate living in London, befriending the ‘Auden Group’ of British and Irish writers active at the time, and he graduated with a third-class degree in 1931. His reputation grew following his early death; unpublished novels and collections of his stories and poems appeared throughout the 1960s.

Sir Tim Waterstone (1958, English)

Sir Tim (born 1939) founded Waterstones Booksellers in 1982, setting up his first small, experimental store in Old Brompton Road, Kensington. In rapidly building a chain from this tiny base, he promoted a unique model of major and sustained exposure for literary authors. He employed highly read and informed staff, who were passionate about literature. Under this personalised stocking, marketing and staffing model, Waterstones grew within ten years to become the largest bookseller group in Europe. Waterstones continues to thrive and expand to this day, now with over 300 branches. Sir Tim is himself a novelist, with five books published to date. His memoir, The Face Pressed Against a Window, was published by Atlantic Books in February 2019. In 2018 he was awarded a knighthood for his services to bookselling and to charitable organisations.

Always an active member of our College community, Sir Tim reflects:

“It was during my time at Catz that my dream of the Waterstone’s creation first grew. Taught, dauntingly, by Tom Henn, then, brilliantly, by Francis Warner, I subsequently set out into the world having spent in Cambridge, and at the College, three of the happiest years of my life.”

Dick Robinson (1959, English)

Dick Robinson (1937–2021) came to St Catharine’s from Harvard as an affiliated student and read English under T. R. Henn. Back in America, after two years of teaching, he joined his father’s publishing company, Scholastic, becoming President in 1974 and Chairman in 1982. He transformed Scholastic into a home of children’s books, and notably acquired the American rights to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, as well as Suzanne Collin’s young adult dystopian The Hunger Games trilogy.

Speaking to The New York Times in 2005, he said:

“Publishing the Harry Potter books has changed the company and made it more visible, but what everybody feels the most about Harry Potter is that it brought kids to the reading process who had never been readers.”1

Fellow and Development Director Deborah Loveluck (2007) reflects:

“Dick was a major figure within our New York alumni community as well as the publishing sector internationally. He was an extraordinary man and always made time for College when the Master and I were in New York. He was a huge admirer of T. R. Henn and on one trip we took him a copy of T. R. Henn’s Selected Poems.”

Sonny Mehta (1961, History)

Sonny Mehta (1942–2019) won a scholarship to St Catharine's and worked for the literary magazine Granta during his degree. He went straight into publishing upon graduation, with Hart-Davis and then Granada, where he co-founded Paladin and commissioned The Female Eunuch from his University friend Germaine Greer.

In 1987, he became CEO of the Random House division Knopf Doubleday, where he remained for the rest of his career. He published many award-winning authors including, Toni Morrison, John Updike, Anne Rice, John le Carré, P.D. James, and many culturally iconic books, such as Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and Stieg Larsson’s Dragon Tattoo trilogy. He received the 2018 Maxwell E. Perkins Award for lifetime achievement from the Center For Fiction. In accepting the award, he said:

“Reading has been a constant in my life… I have always found comfort in the confines of a book or manuscript. Reading is how I spend most of my time, is still the most joyful aspect of my day. I want to be remembered not as an editor or publisher, but as a reader.”2

The Rev'd Dr Glen Cavaliero (1965, English)

Poet and critic Dr Cavaliero (1927–2019) joined St Catharine’s as a mature student reading English, then stayed on for doctoral work and was awarded a PhD in 1972. He was a much-loved teacher for generations of St Catharine’s English students, and his literary interests ranged widely; he seemed to have read everything, and taught well into his eighties. He wrote books on John Cowper Powys and E.M. Forster, on the supernatural and on comedy in fiction. He was also an accomplished poet, publishing several volumes, including his Collected Poems in 2016. Always dapper, never dull, he was a fixture at High Table lunch until shortly before his death.

Peter Godwin (1976, Law)

Peter Godwin (born 1957) was born and raised in Zimbabwe and came to England for the first time to read Law at St Catharine’s, before continuing his studies in international relations at the University of Oxford and practising human rights law in Zimbabwe. Peter has become an award-winning non-fiction author following his career as a respected foreign correspondent, reporting worldwide from over 60 countries during major conflicts as well as the last years of apartheid South Africa.

His works include Mukiwa (winner of the George Orwell prize and the Esquire-Apple-Waterstones award), When a Crocodile Eats the Sun – a Memoir of Africa (Borders Original Voices Award winner) and a New Yorker ‘best book of the year’ The Fear: The Last Days of Robert Mugabe. He has also written for a wide array of publications, including Vanity Fair, National Geographic and the New York Times magazine.

Peter served as East European correspondent and diplomatic correspondent for the Sunday Times, and chief correspondent for BBC television’s flagship foreign affairs program, Assignment. He wrote and co-presented the three-part Channel Four series Africa Unmasked, and his film about the sex trade in Thailand, The Industry of Death, won the gold medal for investigative film at the New York Film Festival.

Peter reflects on his time at St Catharine’s: “I arrived as a teenager straight out of conscripted military service in Rhodesia. The two worlds couldn’t have been more different and the cognitive dissonance, extreme. I’d just been in combat, and now I found myself in wood-panelled, booklined rooms debating arcane legal theory. Unsurprisingly it took me some time to settle in! Being an undergraduate at Catz gave me a chance to claw back my youth.”

Dr Joanne Harris OBE (1982, Modern and Medieval Languages; Honorary Fellow 2012)

Dr Harris (born 1964) arrived just three years after women were first admitted to St Catharine’s. She has published 18 novels and two books of short stories, as well as three cookbooks with Fran Warde. Her books are now published in over 50 countries and have won a number of British and international awards. Her most recent work, Narrow Door, was released in August 2021. Set in a grammar school embarking on co-education, Joanne tells us that there may be something of Catz in the story. Joanne was awarded an OBE in 2022 in the Queen's Birthday Honours List and has served as Chair of the Society of Authors since 2019.

Phoebe Luckhurst (2008, English)

Phoebe Luckhurst is currently the Features Editor and a columnist at the Evening Standard, where she also looks after their books coverage, and has written interviews and features for the Guardian, Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph and Vogue. In July, she will start a new role as the Senior Commissioning Editor at the Sunday Times Magazine. She has appeared on BBC Radio 2, Times Radio, and on podcasts including The Leader, I’m Absolutely Fine! and The Sunday Salon. Her first novel, The Lock In, was published in July 2021 and we are looking forward to the release of her next novel, The Back Up Man, in January 2023.

Phoebe says, “I’ll forever feel lucky for my three years at St Catharine’s: from the friends I made, to the long nights in the Sherlock Library to prepare for morning seminars with Hester Lees-Jeffries (2006). The College is a creative powerhouse for literature, music and drama, and I remember plenty of actors, writers, musicians and student journalists from my time at St Catharine’s, many of whom are doing exciting things today. I have no doubt that this creative environment helped to set us all on our way, and I’m very grateful for my time there.”

Dr Samara Linton (2012, Medical Sciences)

After graduating, Dr Linton completed her medical studies at University College London. She worked as a junior doctor before joining the BBC in 2019, where she went on to work in the Audio Science Unit as an assistant producer for several BBC World Service and Radio 4 programmes. Today, Samara is known as an award-winning writer and multidisciplinary content producer. Her work includes Diane Abbott: The Authorised Biography (2020) and The Colour of Madness: Mental Health and Race in Technicolour (2nd ed, May 2022), and she has also contributed to Rethinking Labour’s Past (2022) and Understanding ‘Race’ and Ethnicity (2019).

Samara reflects, “My writing career began while I was a student at Catz. I wrote a blog post for FLY Cambridge about representation at the university, and it was so well-received that I thought, ‘Maybe I should do more of this’. In writing, I found my voice and learnt I could give others a voice too.”

Current students

It is unusual, but not unheard of, for students to publish literary works before and during their time at St Catharine’s. One example is Letters to Gil: a memoir (2021, William Collins) by Malik Al Nasir (PhD History student), about the life-changing experience of meeting poet, musician and civil rights activist Gil Scott-Heron (read more at letters-to-gil). Nadia Lines (second-year English undergraduate and President, Shirley Society) started writing poetry at the age of 14 and has won many awards. Her most recent volume (Stephen the Phlebotomist, 2022, Nine Pens Press) has just been launched (read more at


1. The New York Times.

2. The New York Times.