24 July 2020 00:40
Poet and author Lemn Sissay will speak about his childhood in Wigan, on tonight's episode of BBC arts series Imagine. Sissay, who was the official poet of the 2012 London Olympics and has been chancellor of the University of Manchester since 2015, was born in Higher End in May 1967. On tonight's episode of Imagine, titled 'Lemn Sissay: The Memory of Me', the writer will speak to host Alan Yentob about what it was like to grow up as the "only black child in a sleepy market town outside Wigan " in the 1970s. The episode follows the publication of Sissay's memoir 'My Name is Why'. A synopsis of the episode on the BBC website reads: "Before being catapulted into the broken care system at the dawn of the 1980s, he was separated from his foster family at the tender age of twelve and left to fend for himself.
Sign up to the free MyWigan email newsletter Get regular updates from Wigan direct to your email inbox with the free MyWigan newsletter. All you need to do is click on this link, enter your email address, and select 'MyWigan News'. "His journey since has been one of discovery: learning not just that his name was Lemn, but that his parents were Ethiopian, a country he returns to for this film to find out more about his roots." The show will also feature contributions from some of the well-known names he has shared the stage with, such as Steve Coogan, Benjamin Zephaniah, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Julie Hesmondhalgh, as well as his close network of friends and supporters from his years in care. Imagine - Lemn Sissay: The Memory of Me will air on BBC One at 10.45pm tonight (July 23). Lemn Sissay is a national treasure.
Let's look at the evidence: the poet's memoir, My Name Is Why, was one of the best books of last year. He was the official poet of the 2012 London Olympics, the last time any of us can remember being happy. And his 2015 episode of Desert Island Discs runs the gamut of human emotions and should be relistened to once at least once a year. And now, as if more proof were needed, Sissay is the subject of one of BBC's Imagine... documentaries, in which Alan Yentob has hung out with everyone from Toni Morrison to Tracey Emin, nodding sagely while they talk about their artistic lives. This time, though, it's not so much about Sissay's artistic life as how art saved his life. And what an astonishing life he's had, rising above careless cruelty to become a champion for the healing power of creativity. He unflinchingly tells Yentob his story: born to a young, unmarried Ethiopian woman in the early Sixties, he was renamed Norman Greenwood and given to white foster parents. When he was 12, they decided they didn't want Sissay — eating biscuits was one thing he did to offend them — and he spent five years in four different children's homes, confused by the startling rejection. On leaving the care system at 15, he was given his birth certificate and learned that his name was really Lemn Sissay. Thus began an almost archaeological search for the truth about who he really was. Sissay searches for his past in this moving documentary (BBC Studios/John Oâ€™Rourke) Part of this came through self-expression: Sissay became a poet, selling his first collection to miners on strike in the Eighties before moving to Manchester, where his words now adorn the walls of buildings. Footage of him performing in the city in the Eighties is electric; amid the Aids crisis and in his twenties, he talks lightning-fast about racism as the real virus — a sentiment that has reverberated this year. Part of his search still continues: as recently as 2015, he was granted access to his social service files from Wigan county council, and the typewritten pages feature here between snatches of his poetry. Sissay returns to the places where he grew up, talking to many figures who featured in his memoir along the way. Television shows in 2020 11 show all Television shows in 2020 1/11 Aimee Lou Wood as Aimee Gibbs and Emma Mackey as Maeve Wiley Netflix 2/11 They're back: Doctor Who will return on Wednesday 1 January BBC / BBC Studios 3/11 The Masked Singer ITV 4/11 Love Island ITV 5/11 RuPaul's Drag Race UK BBC /Leigh Keily 6/11 After Life Netflix 7/11 The Circle Studio Lambert 8/11 White House Farm ITV 9/11 Deadwater Fell Mark Mainz 10/11 Star Trek: Picard CBS 11/11 Belgravia Carnival Films 1/11 Aimee Lou Wood as Aimee Gibbs and Emma Mackey as Maeve Wiley Netflix 2/11 They're back: Doctor Who will return on Wednesday 1 January BBC / BBC Studios 3/11 The Masked Singer ITV 4/11 Love Island ITV 5/11 RuPaul's Drag Race UK BBC /Leigh Keily 6/11 After Life Netflix 7/11 The Circle Studio Lambert 8/11 White House Farm ITV 9/11 Deadwater Fell Mark Mainz 10/11 Star Trek: Picard CBS 11/11 Belgravia Carnival Films Some moments are almost too intimate to watch, such as when Sissay — who has no conventional record of his childhood — is shown an old neighbour's video footage, with fleeting glimpses of himself as a baby. Or when he returns to the home in which he grew up with his foster parents. A twee plaque on the wall now reads, "Wherever we are together, that is home". He still reads poetry with the same urgency as when he was 20 years old, eyes looking straight into you. His face becomes possessed, like he's rediscovering the muscle memory of how it felt it first write them. Yentob's unhurried film sometimes feels outpaced by Sissay's dynamism. It's infectious: anyone who watches this will want to order his book immediately to hear more of his own voice. Imagine… Lemn Sissay: The Memory of Me is on BBC One, tonight at 10.45pm