'Today is a good day': Lemn Sissay awarded OBE in Queen's birthday honours list
Poet and playwright Lemn Sissay has been awarded the OBE in the new Queen’s birthday honours list. Sissay, who was previously awarded an MBE, said on Twitter: “Today is a good day.” Sissay, who is chancellor of Manchester University and current guest director of Brighton Festival, was born to an Ethiopian mother in Britain in 1966. A social worker assigned to his mother by Wigan social services found foster parents for Sissay, told them to treat it as an adoption, and renamed him ‘Norman’. When Sissay was aged 12, after his foster parents had had three children of their own, they placed him into a children's home and said neither they nor any of their family would contact him again.
Between the ages of 12-17, Sissay was held in four different children's homes. After leaving care, he began the search for his mother and took back his real name. At the age of 17, Sissay used his unemployment benefit money to self-publish his first poetry pamphlet. At 19 he was a literature development worker at Commonword, a community publishing cooperative in Manchester. Sissay released his first book of poetry in 1988 at the age of 21, and since the age of 24 he has been a full-time writer, performing internationally.
At the time he was installed as chancellor at Manchester in 2015, he appeared on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs with Kirsty Young, talking, often with great emotion, about his childhood. He has worked with young people leaving care, and said: “If you want to know how young people in care feel, get them to write poetry.”