15 Sep 2023

Poet Lemn Sissay on growing up in the care system, racism and finding his Ethiopian family

At 14, Lemn Sissay inked his initials into his hand with a homemade tattoo. He didn’t write LS, but NG, for Norman Greenwood, which he thought was his name. Except that it wasn’t. His real identity had been withheld from him since he was born.

Born in Wigan to an Ethiopian mother, Lemn Sissay was raised in care; first in a foster family and then, from the age of 12 to 18, in a string of children’s homes, including the notorious Wood End assessment centre, where he was physically, emotionally and racially abused. Despite going on to become an award-winning and internationally acclaimed poet, the trauma of his harrowing childhood never left him, and has informed much of his work on and off the page.

Today on Ways to Change the World, he talks to Krishnan Guru-Murthy about growing up in the care system, finding his identity as a British and Ethiopian man, and why the care system in the UK is failing children in need.

Produced by Silvia Maresca


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