Lemn Sissay and Grace Nichols receive royal awards
Two leading poets received awards from royalty yesterday. Poet and playwright Lemn Sissay collected his OBE from Prince Charles for services to literature and to charity.
Lemn Sissay, who is chancellor of the University of Manchester, was the official poet of the London 2012 Olympics and awarded an MBE in 2009, along with many other accolades.
Lemn Sissay was born in Greater Manchester to an Ethiopian mother who moved to the UK while pregnant with him. He spent many of his early years in and out of foster care children’s homes.
His memoir My name is Why tells his story, beginning with his birth at Billings hospital near St Margaret’s House for pregnant unmarried girls and women in Wigan, to an Ethiopian student in 1967. His mother, who wanted her child to be fostered while she studied, refused to sign the adoption papers. The social worker handed Lemn to foster parents and declared his name “Norman”. At 12, Norman was sent away to children’s homes. After a succession of institutions, he left the care system, alone, and requested his files via “customer services”. They refused. After a 31-year campaign he received them in 2015.
In a separate ceremony on Wednesday Guyanese poet Grace Nichols received her Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry from Her Royal Highness at Windsor Castle.
Nichols moved to Britain in 1977. Her first poetry collection, I Is a Long-Memoried Woman, was published in 1983 and won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize. Her work celebrates her Guyanese and South American heritage while touching on issues of racism and immigration in Britain. The Poetry Medal Committee unanimously nominated her for the medal to honour her “pioneering voice”.