Spotlight of the week – Lemn Sissay

March 11, 2022

Lemn is an Ethio-British Poet, Playwright, Broadcaster, and Speaker who has published thirteen poetry books, prepared six BBC Radio Plays, and nine internationally renowned Theaters. Lemn was born on 21 May 1967 to an Ethiopian mother after moving to England to study. Lemn was taken into long-term foster care in Wigan and was named Norman. At the age of 18, Lemn was reunited with his birth mother. She revealed that she had named him Lemn, meaning ‘why’ in Ethiopia’s Amharic. 

Aged 17, he published his first book, Perceptions of The Pen, all by himself. He used his unemployment benefit money to self-publish his first poetry book, which he sold to miners in Lancashire. In 1885, he followed on another poem book, 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 13 poetry books since 1985 and has written several plays. My Name Is Why is one of his recent books, consisting of the main chronological meditations on his care system experiences. In this poem, he talks about the resilience and hopefulness that came out of what he had to endure. The book talks about a brighter future that remains in his thoughts until today. Storm(2002), Something Dark(2004), Why I don’t hate white people(2009), and Refugee Boy(2013) were some of the plays he has worked on until today. 

Growing up, Lemn had a painful personal experience because of not knowing his parents. These experiences mark much of the stories and backgrounds he talks about in his poetry to date. His works can be found in Manchester’s streets to British Council Offices in Addis Ababa. His poems are depicted at Pizzeria and British Council Office in Addis Ababa. As part of the Board for the University of Manchester, he closely worked with the student union. The student union pushed him to apply for the Chancellor of the university and he did! He has been the Chancellor of the University of Manchester since 2015. He just received the 2022 Honorary Professor University of Manchester Award. Here we are celebrating his achievements and the transcending power of creativity in painful experiences!

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