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New Episode – City of Books Podcast with Lemn Sissay


He shoots from the hip and speaks from the heart – that’s poet and playwright Lemn Sissay.

In this candid interview for the City of Books podcast for Dublin UNESCO City of Literature, he speaks about mother and baby homes, the Black Lives Matter campaign and his experience in the British care system.  

“My name was changed, I was treated as property,” Lemn tells City of Books presenter Martina Devlin.

He was born in a mother and baby home in England, where an Irishwoman was having her child in the bed next to his Ethiopian mother.

He was fostered out for the first 12 years before being handed back and raised in a variety of care homes, as he describes in his powerful memoir, My Name Is Why. But he started writing poetry as a child to assert his sense of identity.

Lemn says society is self-righteous and judgmental.

“It’s really easy for us to blame the social workers and blame the nuns – it’s us. Those institutions wouldn’t be there if we hadn’t had the prejudices. They’re the ones doing the hard work.

“It’s us talking about single pregnant women as if they were evil. As if they were oestrogen terrorists. This prejudice is too easy.” He said it allows us to “patronise the past” and heap blame on others.

As for the children, many have been damaged by their experiences. “We’re more happy to complain about an egg being broken that a child being broken,” he says.

On Black Lives Matter, the poet and Chancellor of Manchester University calls it’s a reckoning: “chickens coming home to roost.”

Recently, Lemn was a Booker Prize judge and says of the 2020 longlist: “I’m pleased we have so many debuts, I’m pleased that there are so many women, I’m pleased there are so many different voices.”

My Name is Why by Lemn Sissay is published by Canongate.

:: City of Books is a monthly podcast brought to you by Dublin UNESCO City of Literature and Dublin City Libraries in association with MOLI, the Museum of Literature Ireland. It is presented and edited by Martina Devlin.

Photograph by Slater King

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