Two hundred and twenty eight days.

Thankyou for your comments. My light switched back on May 4th as you know. So let’s crack on.    Here are some glimpses of what’s been happening over the last seventeen days since May 16th.   It begins in Northern Ireland.  I visited  the talented young people at Verbal Arts Centre in Derry with the artist and designer Morag Myerscough.  We are hatching some beautiful plans there. I have been working in Derry/Londonderry for some years now.   Our visit featured in the Londonderry Sentinel.


The next day  I traveled to to Seamus Heaney’s Home Place. It’s a  new venue in Mid Ulster where he was born. It will be opening very soon.  I read poetry and talked my story as part of their “outreach education” at Mid Ulster library. Just look at their faces. It will be the first time many of them have listened to a black man speak for an hour. This matters. What is said and how it is said matters too.IMG_6199

Here’s a video. It was shot at Verbal Arts Centre on the wall  in Derry/Londonderry in 2014 hence the beard


Back in England from Belfast I scoot up to Manchester and record a film for  The World Wakes.  It’s a commissioned poem written for an exhibition called Adventures in Flatland at The Home of Graphene in The University of Manchester.  It opens later this year. Took this picture on a tea break outside Five Four Studios in Salford. World Class studios.


Then onto The Bradford Literature festival. BLF  immediately ages all other literature festivals in England.  Diversity isn’t an afterthought of BLF it’s their core vision thus reflecting the people of Yorkshire and Britain. I  had my birthday in Bradford  too on May 21st and at the stroke of midnight leaving the 20th and entering 21st…..


Thanks to the thousands of  good hearted well wishers.  Every tweet and facebook message made a difference to me.    Later on the next day – still my  birthday –   I presented a  Television a show called The Road To Wembley on BBC One just before the FA Cup Final. And I loved it. You can still watch it for the next few days.

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 07.38.56Then the next day I gave a talk called The Secret of My Success  with Kit de Waal,  Naz Khan MP,  Mark Garrett, and me. It sold out. Not bad for 10.30am on a Sunday.  And don’t let the title throw you. This was a discussion about adoption and “care” in literature and adoption and “care” in general.    I liked  the absolute authenticity of Naz Khan (she was a foster child),  the openess and clarity of Mike Garratt (head of Marketing at Bradford University and adopted child)  and the calmness,  depth and style of Kit De Waal.  I have her book “My name is Leon”.  I am gonna start reading it after posting this blog.

IMG_6303                                                                                                                                 Bradford Literature Festival is about connections.  For me the meal on Sunday night  was the highlight of the festival. On the left Sudeep Sen and Miz De Shanon. Centre is Gourmet chef,  host and initiator of this fantastic evening  Rahila Hussein and the Blonde on the right is the brilliant and funny  Shanaz GulzarCjFoHm4WgAUTjzJ

And the next day was in London’s Sheperds Bush. I  gave a poetry workshop for Home Educated students  for The BBC Ten Pieces project. It’s a little nerve wracking giving a workshop to children while the parents are watching from the back of the room. But it was  beautiful.

bbc ten pieces workshopAnd that same evening I  raced over to Canary Wharf to what was called   a Blue Sky Event for a charity called  Steamco . Their  primary aim is to inspire children with creativity.

The event was in The Blue Sky on 30th floor of the Barclays Building in Canary Wharf. It was packed with educationalists and bankers. In support.   “CSR is no longer an addition to our processes here at Barclays. CSR is the core of our  business plan” said Ashok Vishwani the CEO of personal and corporate Banking. CSR is Corporate Social Responsibility.  He was reflecting on the banks changes  after the shock and awe meltdown of Barclays/Banking  in 2012. “Shock and awe” are my words not his…………The view. The view. The view. IMG_6450

Steamco is an educational charity and that is why I was there: to be among some impressive and committed speakers and educationalists.  steeam co

The next day I spoke in Liverpool at The Binary Festival organised by Herb Kim.  My talk was based on the fact that this medium – The one you are reading in –  is deeply personal. I blog as a point of record that I am alive at any given time.  But more electrifying was the talk by Steven Bartlett.  He’s 23. If you get chance listen to this man The average age of the people in his marketing/social media/promotion company – offices in Berlin, New York and London – is 22.  “Soon it won’t be called Social Media. It will be called…… Media”.    IMG_6452

A meeting the following day in Notting Hill at Canongate Books.  My book launch will be August 25th at The Edinburgh Book Festival and I’ll be touring up until Christmas.  We’re putting the tour together now. The pick below  is a mock up of my book  Gold From The Stone New and Selected Poems,  in Notting Hill Station. There will be select launches at Rough Trade. Very excited about that. 

The next day I travelled out of the city to Charbury in The Cotswolds to give a workshop with some incredible and talented young people – Superheroes – in Hillcrest Children’s Services home and school.IMG_6490

I came back to London  for a break but had to leave immediately for Manchester.  My Friend Jason got married to Yvonne.  They are Javonne. IMG_6535

The ceremony was on stage  at The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. Jason and Yvonne work in theatre. The team at Royal Exchange know Javonne so the event was special the lighting was perfect and it was an honour to be at a piece of history. This was a theatre first. For me it was an opportunity to catch up with good friends old and new. This picture below was taken outside with Choreographer dancer and photographer Benji reid and film maker Clive Hunte.


Back in London and the East End yesterday I walked the steps to  the top floor of  The Whitechapel Gallery to speak with the incredibly talented and mindful students of Year Here. They were chosen from 2,000 applicants for this illuminating  year long course on social enterprise.  We spoke of authenticity and how to  incorporate  your story within the work you do.  They inspired me and I hope I inspired them. The tweet below refers to my talk.    I was showing how an institution built to serve a need becomes an institution manipulated to serve itself.   By example I was saying that many staff members in the care system would say (to me) “I am in this job because I love children”.  This sounds good and well meaning.   But no staff member ever said this to me in first person “I am in this job because I love you”.  What this exemplifies is the gap. It is in this gap that all manner of future abuses are seeded.   I hope I’ve explained that properly for you. Um basically if you “love children” in the care system you show the love through action which means not telling them.  If I have to take it further for you to understand then let me. What impression would it give a child that every person they meet in the care system says they love children before disappearing.  Year here

So later that afternoon I spoke at Goldsmiths University on a panel after the film  Mercy mercy was screened. Mercy Mercy is about an adopted child called Masho from Ethiopia. The film and the director Katrine Rijs Kjær  (and me) where brought to Goldsmiths by Dr Perlita Harris.   The event sold out. I  have been championing this film and drawing people to it over the past two years.   MASHO the adopted girl at the heart of this film is one who has been  pushed  down The Gap which I spoke about earlier.  This film changed the law on adoption in Denmark and was front page news in all the tabloids.  The editor is the editor for many Lars Von Trier films. Mercy Mercy is an extraordinary piece of documentary film making and for  the commissioners here’s all you needed to have thought  “Denmark has introduced us to some incredible Drama. Now it’s time for  incredible documentary”.   There was an unprecedented recommendation for Mercy Mercy at The Grierson Awards  this year.  Clearly the judges were split between the winner and Mercy Mercy.  I have shown it at The Ritz in Brixton, The Picturehouse at Home Cinema in Manchester and Picturehouse in Hackney.  In Manchester  a staff member said “it’s the best documentary film and Q and A” that I’ve ever attended.

IMG_6605Yesterday I cycle to The Foundling Museum  for the final recording and the reveal of my portrait!!  It’s for  a BBC radio 4 program  called “Portrait of Lemn Sissay”. It’ll broadcast on  June 22nd.  I do hope The Foundling Museum display the painting at least for a short time on the week of the  broadcast. (Caro?)  The photograph,  which is taken   in The Court Room of The Foundling Museum where children were selected for adoption in the 1800s. But the photo  does not do justice to the painting. IMG_6657

There’s been  national and local press but nothing has come close to this  interview by Antonio Rolo Duarte and Jeanmiguel Uva. They are the Editor-in-Cheif and Deputy Editor-in-Cheif of  The Manchester Magazine.  It  is an  independent student magazine for The University of Manchester.  The article has spun around the world in just a few days.    Click here or the picture for  the full article.

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 12.33.25Not everything has run smoothly.  There was a workshop that I was scheduled to give at my University and I cancelled it.   am sorry that I caused  disruption to various people in the university.  Also  I couldn’t be with the Purple Wave of University Runners at The Great Manchester run.   It was won by an Ethiopian wasn’t it. 🙂

And so we come to today. Yes today.  (Pic below 2015 Maryland Stadium)IMG_6454

3 thoughts on “Two hundred and twenty eight days.

  1. Lemn, you are so very busy and yet you find the time to communicate with the utmost eloquence – your words bring so much comfort to those of us who face our own struggles. You move me beyond words….thank you

  2. So wonderful that you visited my home town Derry and I am so proud that you are chancellor of my old university. Your Desert Island discs left me in tears – I worked as a social worker in Manchester for many years and you made me think about all the children that I worked with and I hoped that their lives turned out well – it is so tough when you cannot be with your family and have to figure out life for yourself. And glad that your light is back on – you shine!

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