Lemn Sissay is a poet, playwright and broadcaster. He has read poetry everywhere from The Library of Congress in The United States to The University of Addis Ababa, from the Botanic Gardens of Singapore to the sonorous shores of Sri Lanka, from Wembley Football stadium to Maryland Football stadium, from the theatres of Bangalore to the theatres of Dubai, from a literature festival in Bali to a bar stage in Greenland AND Wigan library.
He was awarded an MBE for services to literature by The Queen of England. He is chancellor of The University of Manchester and an honorary Doctor from The University of Huddersfield, The University of Manchester and The University of Kent. He was the first poet commissioned to write for the London Olympics. He was the official poet of the FA Cup 2015. In 2018 he was made Poet Laureate of Canterbury.
His Landmark poems can be found on walls in public spaces around the world from The Royal Festival Hall in London to The British Council Offices in Addis Ababa. His poem “Gilt of Cain” was unveiled by Bishop Desmond Tutu in The City of London where it stands to this day. Sissay’s installation poem ‘what if’ exhibited at The Royal Academy and toured the world from Tokyo to New York.
Lemn is featured on the Left field album, Leftism which sold millions. In 2017 he featured on the album “Traveller” by Baaba maal. Alternatively, 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 self-titled inspiration for a concerto written by Hannah Kendal, performed by Chineke! Orchestra. He read poetry at Sir Paul McCartney’s book launch at The Queens Theatre in The West End.
He has written various plays for the stage. His play ‘Something Dark’ is on The National Curriculum as a choice text. He adapted Benjamin Zephaniah’s hit Novel, Refugee Boy which toured to rave reviews. In 2017 he acted for the first time playing Scully in Jim Cartwright’s ROAD directed by John Tiffany at Royal Court Theatre.
A BBC TV documentary, Internal Flight, and radio documentary, Child of the State, were both broadcast about his life. Lemn’s TED talks in The Houses of Parliament have been viewed by over a million people and his Desert Island Discs on BBC radio four was chosen as Pick of the Year in 2015.
He co-presented BAFTA award-winning Ten Pieces for BBC Television which was described by BBC Director general Tony Hall as “the biggest commitment the BBC has ever made to music education in our country”. He has made BBC radio documentaries on WH Auden, JB Priestley, Bob Marley, The Last Poets and Gil Scott Heron to name a few. His 2017 radio two-parter “Lemn Sissay’s Homecoming” was nominated for a Palm D’Or.
Lemn started The Christmas Dinners for care leavers in Manchester in 2012. Now they take place throughout England. In December 2017 the prime minister wrote “ By founding ‘The Christmas Dinner’ project, you have created a successful and sustainable model which is making a real difference for hundreds of young care leavers who would otherwise be alone on Christmas Day.
His photograph is exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery. He has been photographed by Greg Williams, Steve McCurry and Rankin. In 2017. His painting was in the National Portrait Gallery as part of The BP Awards. He has won many awards, including 2016 when he won a NESTA new radical award, in 2017, he won a point of light award from The Prime Minister and a Bikila award alongside the Ethiopian music legend Teddy Afro.
Lemn is Trustee of The Foundling Museum and Manchester International Festival. In 2017 he launched The Equity and Merit Scholarship scheme in Ethiopia and The Lemn Sissay Law Scholarship in Manchester. He is published by Canongate Books.
Lemn will be speaking at AMA conference 2019 — Rewire: Culture, Audiences and You
Image courtesy of Lemn Sissay. Credit Aida Muluneh © 2013 Addis Ababa