Everything you need to know about Lemn Sissay

10 Jan 2020

The much-loved British and Ethiopian poet, playwright, broadcaster and speaker, Lemn Sissay MBE is Brighton Festival’s Guest Director in 2020.

Here are a few interesting facts about Lemn’s life and work.

  • Aged 21, Lemn published his first book of poems, Tender Fingers in a Clenched Fist, and sold it in pubs, at political marches, and any place he could stand up and perform.
  • Lemn has published 10 books since 1985 and written several plays including Something Dark and Why I don’t hate white people.
  • Lemn was awarded an MBE for services to literature by The Queen of England in 2010 and a Points of Light Award from the Prime Minister in 2017.
  • He is Dr Dr Dr Dr Lemn Sissay. He is Chancellor of The University of Manchester and an Honorary Doctor from The University of Huddersfield, The University of Kent and The University of Brunel.
  • Lemn is featured on 21st Century Poem on the Leftfield album, Leftism which sold millions. In 2018 on the twentieth anniversary of the album he toured with the band to sell out tours throughout the country.
  • He was the official poet for the London 2012 Olympics and for the FA Cup in 2015. His poem Spark Catchers at the Olympic Park remembers the Victorian socialist Annie Besant, who led the Matchgirls Strike in 1888.
  • Inspired by his own experience of leaving social care, Lemn established ‘The Christmas Dinners’ with the intention that no social care leaver is alone at Christmas. Since launching in 2013, The Christmas Dinners have taken place in Manchester, Leeds, London, Liverpool, Oxford and continue to grow.
  • His Landmark Poems can be found on the walls of hospitals, libraries, pubs, universities and train stations, bringing his writing to communities in public spaces every day. Gilt of Cain was unveiled by Bishop Desmond Tutu in The City of London and his poem what if was exhibited at The Royal Academy and toured galleries from Tokyo to New York.
  • Lemn’s Channel 4 documentary, Superkids: Breaking Away from Care, was nominated for a BAFTA. A BBC TV documentary, Internal Flight, and radio documentary, Child of the State, were both based about his life.
  • Lemn’s TED talks in the Houses of Parliament have been viewed by over a million people and his interview on Desert Island Discs was chosen as a BBC Pick of the Year 2019.
  • In 2019, Lemn won the PEN Pinter prize, set up in memory of playwright Harold Pinter.

He said: “What I like about this award is that it is from a great writer and a great organisation. I accept it as a sign that I should continue. All I have is what I leave behind. All I am is what I do.”

  • Lemn published his memoir, My Name is Why in August 2019 which reflects on his childhood, self-expression, Britishness, race, family, and the meaning of home. The publication is a Sunday Times number one bestseller and has been listed as book of the year in publications such as The Times, New Statesman, The Guardian and the Telegraph.

Find out more about Lemn Sissay.