May was to be the most exciting month of my career.

Stop right there. The blog has been public for 10 minutes and your responses  have been generous and kind. This one touched me because anything I say about my losses (in the ensuing blog post)  pale against the loss of a wedding.

Okay so below is the post that I originally put up starting with Jamie MacMillan’s photo.
May was set to be the most exciting month of my  thirty year career. More exciting than my book launch last year.   Here are the three  reasons why. (photo by Jamie MacMillan)

Firstly, this weekend was to be the launch of Brighton Festival.  The city would have been garlanded with posters and flags such as this one. Hotels would have been packed and the streets buzzing with that festival vibe.  There were over 150 events scheduled to take place across the region with 17 premieres, exclusive commissions and co-productions and many debuts from international artists.  Great Ethiopian artists would’ve been there. such as Mulatu Astatke, Samuel Yirga and Maaza Mengiste.

I was the guest director.  A world-class team of Arts Producers at The Brighton Festival brought it all together. The programme was printed!  We were ready to go.  Hundreds of  tickets had already been bought  for my event at The Brighton Dome,  thousands for other events at The Festival.  I was about to launch a national project at Brighton festival called  “Adopt A Nation”.   I was all set to spend  an ocean-lined summer in the city with  a sea view from my room at The Artist’s Residence in Regency Square. It’s all gone. Now on to the Second disappearing project.   Let’s talk  Alan Yentob, the most connected man in the Arts in Britain.

“Imagine” is the most respected arts programme in British broadcasting. John O’Rouke (director) and Alan Yentob (presenter) and Tanya Hudson (producer)  have been making an Imagine documentary on me. I took this sneaky photo (below)  in the edit suite in Soho. I could be in trouble for posting it.

The  65 minute  documentary film will be broadcast on BBC featuring Linton Kwesi Johnson,  Benjamin Zephaniah,  Steve Coogan Julie Hesmondhalgh, Henry Normal  Tony Wilson and many more. It was filmed in England and  Ethiopia and I understand it was due out in the middle of May, just as the festival was at its hottest.It will come out but I don’t know when.

Thirdly the  paperback of My name Is Why was supposed to be coming out this month . I received a copy just three days ago so this is an exclusive peep at the inside cover.

It is now due on July 2nd. Depending on stuff. All events for the tour of the paperback have been cancelled or postponed, like beloved  Dublin,  Galway, Addis, Manchester, London  and many more.  All gone. Like a Birthday cake tumbling through the air that lands face down on the stone cold kitchen floor,  the party’s over.

We are in hurricane Corona. But if you are in good health and if you can manage financially then you are not.  It  is raging around you.   People are being  lifted off the ground and thrown into the sky, houses are being smashed to pieces and scattered in the airborne maelstrom. If you are in good health and if you have a home you re in the eerie eye of the storm but you are not IN the storm. You have  a fish eye view  of the catastrophic madness swirling around you.  Like me, you are very very  lucky.

This month was a big one for me but the festival will return, the book will come out and the film will be broadcast. All in their own time. It was ever thus.  I can afford the financial loss (hurt as it may) and I have a home. In many ways I am in a kind of ramadan, or lent,  fasting from over indulgence..  I  write my blog for my memory as a point of record in lieu of family. Stay safe.

On. final note I am  judging a poetry competition for the men in prison at  Strangeways in Manchester. The reason prisoners can create extraordinary art and poetry is because there is no lockdown in the imagination.  The term lockdown comes from prisons.   It is a term we are using to describe the present stay home situation. My words for Brighton Festival  bode well for Lockdown.

Addendum: Here are the names of the incredible workers at Brighton Festival.
Beth Burgess – Festival Executive Producer: Lemn’s Main contact for Festival Producing.
Sally Scott – Festival producer – Theatre, Outdoor, Our Place
Philippa Barr – Festival producer – Theatre, Dance
Slavka Jovanovic – Festival producer – Family and Participation
Gill Kay – Freelance Festival Producer – Classical Music
Nii Parkes – Freelance Festival Producer – Literature
Rosie Crane –  Freelance Festival Producer – Comedy, Theatre, Dance
Hilary Cooke – Freelance Festival Producer – Young Literature
Danni Colgan – Freelance Festival Producer – Contemporary Music
Sally Cowing – Freelance Festival Associate Producer – International
Tim Brown – Free Lance Curator for Film
Dan Lake – Outdoor Production Manager
Andy Furneaux – External venue Production Manager


33 thoughts on “May was to be the most exciting month of my career.

  1. Big up, Lemn. Feel for you 🙁
    As Isiah Whitlock, Jr would say, sheeeeeeeee-it.
    Looking forward to the Imagine.

  2. Thanks for this reflection Lemn. The perspective is so important. I saw something the other day that said “we are all in the same storm…but not in the same boat”. How true! In my nhs job I’m working remotely with many of my patients now – through a screen – looking at each other as the storm rages around and between us. Some are going to experience the the last few weeks or months of their lives in lockdown – not part of any plan… those final days were supposed to be filled with connection and fulfilling last wishes. Ironically, I’m gaining so much from what they are letting go of and like you am lucky that, health permitting, I’ll come out the other side. And life will happen again. First thing I’m going to do – hop on a train, hug some dear friends and walk the streets of my beloved Manchester. Take care x

  3. As ever your words hit the spot Lemn.

    Hard and unhelpful to compare / measure how tough things are for each of us. Your losses are no less painful and I personally am so sad not to be welcoming you to Brighton. The adoptive and foster families I work with were so looking forward to your projects.

    Lets stay with life sucks right now shall we?!

    • I am not in the ‘life sucks’ area of y life right now but that doesn’t mean I can pretend it doesn’t suck for others. In fact understanding ones privilege is about helping others, I think. Love Lemn

  4. We truly are in a storm Lemn although I am in no doubt if we follow your words and recognise that if we have a home and food we will get through this, ride the waves and move forward supporting those who will struggle to make it through this. Look forward to these projects coming out in due course and also resuming our work together in Ethiopia. Did I ever tell you I know the Coogan family as Steve, David and Martin went to same school and I appeared alongside their sister Clare in a stage production of The Mikado many years ago !
    Stay well

  5. May you have many more Mays. Perhaps not in the following days. Covid knocks your stuffing out of you & makes you rethink. On a positive note, you have been kept safe & can continue with your life’s calling. Be kind to yourself – don’t be your harshest critic. You are irreplacable. Best wishes Carol

  6. Too true. I’m one of the ( very) lucky ones as well. My biggest hope is that there will be sufficient numbers of people ready to resist the pressure of ‘ back to normal’ when it’s over so we can move gently to a ‘new normal’ instead. Before the crisis, I would fly around the world rushing from assignment to assignment, enjoying the work but feeling increasingly stressed by the pressure to ‘do’ more. During lockdown I have been sleeping better, exercising regularly, needing to speak to my family more often, appreciating the small things, discovering nature, baking, reading, dreaming, listening to music and watching films and the great drama/ comedy that’s on offer out there. Nothing too difficult, nothing too intellectual, just being in the moment. I absolutely do not want to go back to the old normal. Artists of every kind are needed more than ever to show the way. Peace to you and thanks for the uplifting and very valued contribution you make to the ‘ being’ and ‘living’ we all need

  7. So many more amazing experiences to come your way, Lemn. I’m sorry May will not be what it could have been. But I’m grateful you’re safe and well and that there will be much good to come for you. I, for one, am looking forward to your Booker prize nominations. Here in Australia, we have been largely insulated – for now – from the corona crisis engulfing the UK and much of the world. I’ve been in self-isolation for seven weeks and my last social outing was a Bernadine Evaristo book reading in Bristol two months ago. It’s surreal to think of what has happened since then. Thinking of you and wishing you bright days ahead x

  8. During this lockdown period , I came across your book , which I listened to on audible .
    I am a foster parent, Reading how you felt and were treated as a child and young person in the care system broke my heart however, most importantly it has made me determined to strive to be a better foster carer .
    You are right there are so many in the eye of the storm especially children at risk. I know, from your book your case it was different in that you were not at risk from your mother, but for so many home is a dangerous place. Keep writing your wonderful poems and your blog and I will keep on trying to be a better foster carer

  9. If I had my way you’d have been Boris’s replacement if things had gone badly for him. Keep going pal !

  10. Dear Lemn we are indeed in such challenging times and your words are always very welcome. We met at Rich Mix a few months ago – my son in law was performing a piece about Tewodros and you spoke about your book. I’ve shared my copy with my neighbours so I will tell them about the launch of the paperback. I work with refugees – their boat is so fragile to weather this storm. Go well and I look forward to meeting on the other side. Angela

  11. Each of us has had to forfeit something and, as you say, some of us are OK. I am. My brother and his family had a house fire ten days ago. It is devastating, but they are alive and we, their friends and family, are grateful for that. People have been overwhelmingly kind and generous towards them and that is what made us cry.
    I hope that you are also on the receiving end of kindness and generosity Lemn.

  12. The arts/performing arts are taking a battering. I think it is pretty catastrophic – all the practical elements of society are functioning but the loss of the arts as we know it is heartbreaking – the poverty of it, and the poverty of thought-provoking, sensual experience. I’m sorry that this hugely exciting month has turned to mush for you, albeit that the projects will emerge later.
    My daughter is finishing her 3rd degree year as a jazz student at RCS and I realised at the weekend, she may graduate next year without playing live with other musicians in front of an audience. She is one of thousands of students in the performing arts whose development depends on interacting with others; for experience, for professional development, for written projects and a final dissertation. Education at this level is being affected. The government seem unaware of it and/or unconcerned about this societal black hole. They seem unconcerned about the loss of income, either full-time or part-time.
    Thank you for sharing this. Your work is always exciting and despite the situation, I am excited about your projects and look forward to them being realised. All the best Lemn

    • Thankyou for yor kindness Christine. The creative community has suffered a loss but the clue to our return, including your daughters,
      is in that same word ‘Creative’. We will come out of this stronger wiser and at least the youth will be able to say they remember it
      happening, they were there, they got through it.

  13. You’r positivity and eloquence about the impact of Corona ‘hurricane’ is as inspiring as always. Our book club reviewed My Name is Why and whilst folks thought it a tough story to hear it was an invaluable book. I ensure students and practitioners, in social work and every children’s home I visit has a copy.
    You inspired me back in the early 80’s and 90’s when I began my career in working with children in children’s homes. The Black and in Care video was used when I moved into social work training and I have been stalking you for best part of 30 years. I love your TED talks, documentaries and treasure my signed copy of Gold from Stone bought as a present from my friend Pam Burrows (she interviewed you on Nottingham’s community TV at Rough Trade)
    What was wonderful some years back was when my son was at Uni in Manchester… he rang and said he had met this amazing guy who was a poet and I blurted your name……he was flabbergasted that I knew of you and then cross that even his Mum had beaten him to knowing this cool guy. We are all cool in our way I guess. Thank you Lemn You are a super good human in my book (if ever I were to write one) and would love for you to come for tea and taste my legendary apple fruit cake. Its full of love

    • Anji THANKYOU, what a great message. Not many people comment on the Black and In Care Video. I have two VHS copies.
      I need to get them transferred as I haven’t seen it in years. I would like for someone to put it up online.
      Cause it was really special. Anyway it is wonderful to hear from someone who has seen me develop and grow as the
      years of past. It means more to me than maybe you realise. – All the best

  14. Just enjoyed seeing you chatting with Mary Beard – I would love to hear more from you perhaps some podcasts about poetry/poets/writing/transformation/being human – maybe you already have? best wishes to you, Janet

  15. Dear Lemn,
    Often I can’t sleep because I’m thinking about what you wrote and worrying about how you are and I am feeling so angry because you were loved and should have been so loved. You are an amazing writer and poet and human being who inspires love and deserves love. Reading your book changes the reader forever. Thank you

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