Dr Kate Kennedy is a biographer, librettist and broadcaster. She specialises in twentieth-century music and literature, the First World War, women’s composition and writing, and illness narratives.

Dweller in Shadows: A Life of Ivor Gurney was published by Princeton University Press in June 2021, and was shortlisted for the Royal Philharmonic Society Prize. The result of many years of research, it is the first biography to look at all aspects of the war poet/composer’s work, alongside his life from the trenches to a lunatic asylum.

Kate is a Research Fellow in Life-Writing at Wolfson College, Oxford, and the Associate Director of the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing which is an international centre for the discussion of biography, autobiography, and the many issues surrounding the ways in which we approach the narratives of lives. She has previously held research fellowships in both Music and English at the University of Cambridge. She is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

Kate’s next book will be Cello, to be published by Head of Zeus/Bloomsbury in 2023. This will be a biographical memoir focussed around the cello, exploring our relationship with the instrument and its capacity to tell stories about the lives of its players.

With Dame Hermione Lee as co-editor, Kate published Lives of Houses with Princeton University Press in 2020. A regular broadcaster on the BBC, particularly Radio 3, she appears on Music Matters, Proms Plus, Record Review, Building a Library, Essential Classics, Composer of the Week and The Essay. Her Sunday Feature documentaries have been selected for Pick of the Year by Radio 4, and she was awarded the Oxford Vice Chancellor’s Prize for Public Engagement with Research in 2017.

Panel 1

Kate Kennedy

Recent Press for Dweller in Shadows: A Life of Ivor Gurney:

‘The Strange Case of Ivor Gurney’, Anthony Lane’s review in the New Yorker, 5 July 2021:

“Dweller in Shadows” has many virtues, the foremost being that of judiciousness. Kennedy is scrupulous in her approach to her subject’s mental travails, […] This biography is challenging and robust. […] The deepest impress of her book, however, is that it grows into the portrait of a hero. To be assailed as Gurney was, to realize that the barrages would persist in peacetime, and nonetheless to insist on making your report, in music or in verse, is proof not of surrender but of mastery and quiet magnificence.  

Poet Andrew Motion, writing in The Spectator, ‘The short, unhappy life of Ivor Gurney'(3 July 2021): 
‘Only now has Kate Kennedy, in her enthralling, meticulously researched and deeply sympathetic life, finally done justice to Gurney’s story. … Kennedy writes with an exceptional mixture of imaginative sympathy and intelligence.’

‘Silenced’ voice of Great War poet to be heard for first time | First world war | The Guardian

Dweller in Shadows: A Life of Ivor Gurney by Kate Kennedy – review by Simon Heffer in Literary Review, 3 June 2021:
‘This fine, well-researched and intelligent biography by Kate Kennedy will do much to promote the legend further. It has the advantage not just of being a chronicle of Gurney’s immensely sad life but also of containing thoughtful analyses of his poetry and music.’ ‘This painstaking biography will do much to enhance Gurney’s reputation’

Ivor Gurney, asylum modernist | Essay by Kate Kennedy, TLS (11 June 2021)

A Bengali Polymath and an ‘Accidental Modernist’ – The Podcast – TLS (the-tls.co.uk)

RADIO COVERAGE: Feature on Dweller in Shadows on the Today Programme, BBC Radio 4 16th June: BBC Radio 4 – Today – Available now

BBC Radio 4 – Today – Available now 04/06/2021. www.bbc.co.uk

Radio 3’s In Tune, 18 June: BBC Radio 3 – In Tune, Isata Kanneh-Mason, Kate Kennedy

BBC Radio 3 – In Tune, Isata Kanneh-Mason, Kate Kennedy. Top-class live music from some of the world’s finest musicians.www.bbc.co.uk

BBC Radio 3 Sunday Feature on Gurney’s asylum years – ‘Unmouthed’: 20th June, 6:45pm: BBC Radio 3 – Sunday Feature, Unmouthed

BBC Radio 3 – Sunday Feature, Unmouthed. What happens to a creative mind when it has everything taken away? Dr Kate Kennedy traces composer and poet Ivor Gurney’s 15 years in an asylum, uncovering unseen poems and music.www.bbc.co.uk

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Private: Events


22 May | 6:30 pm

Fletcher Challenge Theatre
Simon Fraser University, Harbour Centre

The Fateful Voyage

Graduate Liberal Studies is hosting a talk and excerpted performance of The Fateful Voyage, written by BBC broadcaster and Director of the Oxford Centre for Life Writing, Kate Kennedy. Kennedy will be joined in the performance by pianist and Director of the Southbank Sinfonia, Simon Over, and world-renowned London tenor, James Oxley. Sponsored by the Jack and Doris Shadbolt Fellowship in the Humanities and Graduate Liberal Studies with thanks to the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at SFU. Read more…

27 March 2019 Talk on Walton for the LPO, Royal Festival Hall
18 January In conversation with Sir Mark Elder, Saffron Hall
25 January chairing discussion with Sir Thomas Allen, Wolfson College, Oxford
5 February 5:30pm chairing lecture by Nicola Lefanu, Wolfson College, Oxford
12 February 5:30pm chairing lecture by Errolyn Wallen, Wolfson College, Oxford
13 February 12:15pm In conversation with composer Edmund Finnis, Wigmore Hall
27 March 12:15pm In conversation, Britten Sinfonia, Wigmore Hall
27 March 6:30pm lecture on William Walton, London Philharmonic Orchestra, QEH, Southbank Centre
24 April 10-4 chairing Venus Unwrapped: A day focussed on female composers, King’s Place
9 May 6:30 lecture on AE Housman’s poetry, Glasgow City Halls
9 May 7:30 co-presenting BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra concert featuring Butterworth, BBC Radio 3
20 – 23 May The Fateful Voyage on tour, Vancouver
7 – 23 June Aldeburgh Festival details forthcoming


6 December 6:45pm lecture with BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, City Halls, Glasgow ‘Britten in Exile’
24 November 10 – 4pm Writing Your Life day seminar, Wolfson College Oxford
21 November 1pm In Conversation with composer Luke Styles, Wigmore Hall
11 November 6:45pm Sunday Feature: In Ruhleben Camp, broadcast BBC Radio 3
10 November 11am Lecture on Britten’s War Requiem, The Red House, Aldeburgh
10 November 6:30pm Lecture on Music’s War Poets, Saffron Hall
10 November 7:30pm The Last Letter, Britten Sinfonia, Saffron Hall
9 November 7:30pm The Last Letter, Britten Sinfonia, Milton Court, Barbican Centre
9 November 7:30pm The Fateful Voyage, Clipston, Northamptonshire
8 November 6:30pm Lecture on Music’s War Poets, St Andrew’s Hall, Norwich
8 November 7:30pm The Last Letter, Britten Sinfonia, St Andrew’s Hall, Norwich
3 November 2 – 4pm Lecturing on Ivor Gurney and Wilfred Owen, Literature Cambridge
2 November 6:30pm Performing A Terrible Beauty (poetry and music recital with tenor Robert Murray), King’s College Chapel
1 November 7:30 Sounds of Suffrage (narrator, with Berkeley Ensemble), Senate House, London
31 October 7:30 Armistice Concert, Parliament Choir, Southbank Sinfonia, Central Hall, Palace of Westminster
26-28 October Beyond Wilfred Owen conference, Wolfson College, Oxford
8 October 7:30pm Lecture and book signing, Words and Music of World War One, with Sebastian Foulks, Cheltenham Literary Festival
8 October Music Matters broadcast on Hubert Parry with Tom Service, BBC Radio 3
7 October 6:45pm Sunday Feature on Hubert Parry, broadcast BBC Radio 3
15 September 2pm Lecture on Ivor Gurney, Gloucester Cathedral
8 September 9am Elgar with Andrew McGregor, broadcast BBC Radio 3
12 August 5:30 Proms Plus discussion with AC Grayling on Vaughan Williams
12 August 7:30 BBC World Service with Georgia Mann, presenting BBC Symphony Orchestra with Edward Gardner Prom


27 October LPO talk on Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony, Royal Festival Hall

Panel 3

Dramatised Recitals

Kate is interested in developing the concept of the recital, experimenting with blending biography and archival research with elements taken from the theatre and the concert platform. 

She has been commissioned by Wigmore Hall, City of London Festival, Britten Sinfonia and University of London,  recorded by Altara Records, and broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Her recitals and plays are performed regularly throughout the UK in venues such as Wigmore Hall, Barbican Centre and the Southbank Centre. 

Kate has worked with a range of actors, singers, musicians, and ensembles:
Actors: Alex Jennings, Fiona Shaw, Simon Russell Beale, Timothy West, Sophie Hunter.
Singers: Sarah Connolly, James Gilchrist, Robin Titschler, Daniel Norman, Robert Murray.
Pianists: Iain Burnside, Julius Drake, Simon Over.
Ensembles: Britten Sinfonia, Berkeley Ensemble

Panel 4

TV and Radio

Kate Kennedy is a regular broadcaster and academic consultant to the BBC, directing the commemorations for the First World War and for International Women’s Day for Radio 3, among other projects. She has appeared on BBC 2 and BBC 4 television.