Lemn Sissay

Lemn Sissay on Have I Got News For You: What are his most famous poems?

Lemn also made a renowned documentary

Lemn Sissay is an internationally renowned author, known for his extraordinary poems.

The academic fellow, 53, appears alongside comic Jo Brand in Friday’s night’s (May 14) Have I Got News For You.

We take a closer look at his poetry career, personal life and more below…

What is Lemn Sissay famous for?

Lemn is most famous for his poetry. He used his unemployment benefits at 17 to publish his first poetry pamphlet. And published his first book of poetry at just 21.

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From his 20s onwards he has worked as a professional writer. In 1995 he made a documentary, Internal Flight, about his troubled upbringing and in 2006 his drama Something Dark was made into an award-winning BBC Radio 3 series.

Lemn Sissay on ITV News
Lemn Sissay on ITV News (Credit: ITV)

He gained significant international recognition in 2012 when he was appointed the official poet at the 2012 London Olympics.

He received his MBE in 2010 and in 2015 he was appointed as chancellor at the University of Manchester for a seven-year term.

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While in 2014 he was appointed as a fellow at the Foundling Museum.

You may recognise him from his media appearances in the likes of Grumpy Old Men, The South Bank Show and his episode for Desert Island Discs.

Whereas in 2019 he was awarded the prestigious PEN Pinter Prize. And last year he joined the Booker Prize judging panel.

Lemn Sissay BBC
Lemn reciting a poem (Credit: BBC)

Who is he married to? Does he have any children?

Lemn has never married and does not have any children. However, in an interview for The Guardian in 2016, he seemed open to the possibility.

While the journalist explained: “He has never married, and has no children.

“He said he would never do that until he had found his birth family: but in his late 20s he did, and he is now in touch with his mother, who lives in New York. So yes, he says, he would love to settle down with someone; he would love children.”

Does Lemn Sissay have a Ted Talk?

Yes, Lemn has delivered powerful speeches for both Ted and TedX.

His Ted speech is called A Child of The State, and covers his turbulent childhood and his quest to improve the lives of children in care.

Lemn is a poet and academic (Credit: ITV)

Hence in his speech he urges the government and carers to treat every child in care as “our child”.

And to provide them with the best opportunities to successfully transition into the adult world.

Who are Lemn’s parents?

Lemn was born in England to an Ethiopian mother, Yemarshet Sissay.

She travelled to the UK for studies only to find herself unexpectedly pregnant.

Lemn was put into foster care shortly after he was born. He was a in a stable but religiously strict family until the age of 12.

But then moved between care homes from 12 to 18.

Speaking to The Guardian he said: “I was in care for 18 years.

“The care system should be a place where 18 years is a gift because you’ve got all the resources, the best education, the best psychotherapeutic work, and actually it was 18 years of betrayal, secrets, lies, beatings, incarceration.”

As an adult he searched for his mother, finally reuniting at the age of 21.

She was working at the United Nations in Gambia. She now lives in Manhattan, New York.

Yet years later Lemn uncovered paperwork filed by his mother to try and get him back into her care.

But tragically is was ignored by social services.

Heartbreakingly, he never met his birth father.

Taking to Twitter last year, the poet revealed: “My birth father was a pilot. He’s at the bottom of this photo in pilot uniform. He passed away in the early seventies . We never met. Ethiopian Airlines is my favourite airline.”

Lemn Sissay’s books

Lemn has published many books throughout his literary career. His published works include – My Name is Why, Gold From the Stone, Listener and Morning Breaks in the Elevator.

*Lemn is on Friday’s episode of Have I Got New For You on BBC One at 9pm.

It will be available to stream on BBC iPlayer shortly after it initially airs.

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