Poet and broadcaster Lemn Sissay gives sneak preview of new memoir on national radio

Lemn Sissay. Photo by Hamish Brown
Lemn Sissay. Photo by Hamish Brown
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One of the borough’s best-known cultural exports has begun the publicity trail for his much-anticipated memoir on national radio.

Poet and broadcaster Lemn Sissay appeared on BBC Radio 4 programme Front Row to talk about My Name Is Why, which hits the shelves later this month.

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He spoke about writing the book after receiving the files from his upbringing in the social care system, contrasting what was written about him for official reports and correspondence with his own memories of his childhood and teenage years.

He read an extract about being punished by his strict Christian foster parents as a child for the radio audience and said he wrote the book to present the evidence of what had happened to him.

Lemn said: “The files were the proof that everything I had been saying before was true. They were also the only memories of my childhood in one place.

“I could have been lying to everybody when I was writing plays about my childhood. This is evidence of what happened and that I’m not some crazy guy banging on about some crazy past.

“The files were written in the tone of the 1960s and 1970s, the awkward distance of the institutionalised mind. I use them as flags in the mountainside. This is what they said about me, but this is what I was feeling.”

Lemn spoke about how his mum, who was from Ethiopia, wanted her son fostered for a short time while she studied.

However, the social worker told his foster papers to think of it as a permanent adoption and she would be forced into signing the papers. For good measure, the young Lemn’s name was changed to Norman.

Lemn said: “Once that untruth had been established, all the things that are in the files followed.”

Lemn also revealed on the programme that the book starts each section with one of the popular four-line verses about night and day which he produces every single morning and posts on his social media.

Lemn’s time in the borough’s care system included being sent to the notorious Wood End Centre in Atherton.

In recent years he has been outspoken about the appalling abuse he suffered there and also spoken to other survivors while encouraging them to speak about their stories.

He said he hopes the memoir will strengthen those who have been through similar ordeals.

He said: “The book is deeply personal. I just hope that more people can stand up and bear witness to what’s happened to them.”

Lemn also revealed on his social media this week that My Name Is Why has already rocketed to the top of the Amazon charts while it is still at the pre-ordering stage.

The memoir is released on August 29.