Sissay, Lemn

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Sissay was born to an unmarried Ethiopian student in England, who put him into voluntary temporary care so that she could continue her studies.

The social worker illegally placed him in a white conservative Baptist foster home in Lancashire under an assumed name and denied his mother any contact with him: she didn't see him again for over 30 years.

He grew up thinking his name was Norman, and was not told his real name or given any information about his past until he was 18. When he was 11 his foster family asked him if he loved them. He honestly told them no, but that he would ask God's forgiveness and help to learn to love them. His reward was to be taken away without warning the next day and to spend the rest of his childhood in a succession of children's homes and never to have any contact with his foster "family" again.

When he was 30 he finally succeeded in tracing his mother, who was by then living in New York and working for the United Nations. He learned that his father had been a pilot for Ethiopian Airlines and had died some years before in a plane crash. His mother later married a minister in Emperor Haile Selassie's government.

He has since also happily traced the rest of his family.

Sissay has been a performance and published poet and scriptwriter since the age of 19. Published collections include Morning Breaks in the Elevator, Tender Fingers in a Clenched Fist and Rebel without Applause. His live performances include venues ranging from the Ministry of Sound club in London to the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit meeting.

In 1995 the BBC broadcast a documentary about his life and search for his family.


"Apollo Saxophone Quartet and Lemn Sissay." Available at:
"Lemn Sissay . His Story." [Includes portraits]. Available at:
"Loose Ends," broadcast on BBC Radio 4, 28 February 2004


Uk/great Britain
20th Century
21st Century
Theater, Broadcasting, Cinema
Birth Identity Disputed or Deliberately Concealed
Ethnic or Religious Identity Confused or Concealed, Racism
Estrangement from Adoptive or Foster Family
Formal, American/European-Type Fostering
Birth or Infancy
Unmarried Mother, Single Parent (Mother or Father) Unable to Cope
Others ("Strangers")
Trans-Racial, Trans-Tribal, International or Trans-Cultural Adoption or Fostering
Customary or Traditional Adoption, Informal and Extra-Legal Care
Institutional Care
Disrupted or Failed Placements
Unmarried Mother
Adoptee/Fosteree Traced Family
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