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Poet, playwright and performer Lemn Sissay appears at Bishop's Stortford College Festival of Literature




Prize-winning author Lemn Sissay is one of a kind – literally. The writer awarded an MBE for services to literature is the only individual with that name in the world.

He makes up for that singularity by the plurality of his roles as a poet, playwright, artist, performer and broadcaster.

He will be appearing at the Bishop's Stortford College's Festival of Literature online on Saturday (February 6) to talk about his extraordinary life and achievements including winning a Bafta in 2019 for his documentary Superkids.

Lemn Sissay by Hamish Brown (44170928)
Lemn Sissay by Hamish Brown (44170928)

The 53-year-old was born near Wigan in Lancashire after his pregnant mother arrived in the UK from Ethiopia.

He was fostered before being sent to a series of care homes aged 12 and has chronicled the trauma of those early years in his best-selling memoir, My Name Is Why, published by Canongate Books in 2019; BBC TV documentary, Internal Flight; and radio documentary, Child of the State.

His experience also prompted him to found the Christmas dinners for care leavers project in Manchester in 2012 and now they take place across the country, including a virtual celebration in Hertfordshire this year for young people who would otherwise be alone.

Lemn Sissay by Hamish Brown (44170930)
Lemn Sissay by Hamish Brown (44170930)

On Saturday, he will be talking about this difficult childhood, which led to him reclaiming his real name and finding his birth mother, the brutality of the institutional care system, and the themes of Britishness, race, family and the meaning of home.

In addition to his writing, which secured The Pen Pinter Prize and a clutch of honorary doctorates, he won a Bikila award with the Ethiopian music legend Teddy Afro and his 2017 radio two-parter, Lemn Sissay's Homecoming, was nominated for a Palm d'Or.

Other accolades include a NESTA new radical award, a RIMA award for his play, Something Dark, and he was the first poet commissioned to write for the London Olympics and wrote the official poem for the FA Cup.

He is familiar to music fans after he featured on Leftism, the debut studio album by English electronic music duo Leftfield, released in 1995 which redefined the dance genre.

Lemn Sissay by Hamish Brown (44170926)
Lemn Sissay by Hamish Brown (44170926)

He went back on the road with the ban to celebrate its 20th anniversary and his musical contribution also includes an appearance on the album Traveller by Baaba Maal.

A violin concerto performed at The BBC Proms by Viktoria Mullova was inspired by and named after his poem Advice For The Living. Another poem, Spark Catchers, featured in the 2017 proms as the inspiration for a concerto written by Hannah Kendal.

His play, Something Dark, is on the National Curriculum and he adapted poet Benjamin Zephaniah's novel, Refugee Boy, for the stage to rave reviews.

To learn more about his life and achievements, join Lemn online on Saturday, February 6, at 7.30 pm. The talk is suitable for an audience aged 16-plus. For more details see www.festivalofliterature.co.uk



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