Canterbury Laureate | May 2017 – May 2020
In partnership with The Marlowe and supported by funding from Arts Council England, Wise Words design and produce the Canterbury Laureate Programme. In May 2017, Lemn Sissay was announced as our current Laureate, cementing Canterbury’s status as a dynamic centre for literature.
The three-year Laureateship offers the opportunity for Lemn to make Canterbury a home and to use it as a base from where he can build a relationship with local writers, poets, artists and the community.
“His strength, passion and unwavering belief in the power of poetry to make a difference to people’s lives, make him an incredible role model to artists. His own story is one that will inspire anyone who has faced hardship, to find resilience within themselves to achieve their dreams – whatever they may be. To me Lemn represents everything we could hope for in a Poet Laureate and we are delighted to be working with him in this role.” Beth Cuenco, Director, Wise Words
Since beating former politician Lord Peter Mandelson in the election for the chancellorship of the University of Manchester, you can hardly open a national paper, turn on the radio or television without there being a feature on him or his work. As a castaway on Desert Island Discs he shared the story of his search for his birth parents. Born to a young Ethiopian woman who wanted him temporarily fostered while she completed her studies, he was with a family until he was 12. He spent the next five years in a number of children’s homes where he began to write. On leaving care at 17, he self-published his first book of poetry while on the dole.
He is an associate artist at the Southbank Centre, ambassador for The Children’s Reading Fund, trustee of Forward Arts Foundation and World Book Night, and founder of Cultureword. His award-winning play Something Dark has been performed across the world to great critical acclaim and has just been added to the A-level syllabus. Until early next month (September), he is appearing at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in Jim Cartwright’s play, Road. His work with young people has changed the lives of thousands, guiding ‘Superheros’ out from dark corners and supporting care leavers across the UK. He has been awarded an MBE for his impact on literature.
Lemn is passionate about poetry as a catalyst for social change and this belief has driven his plans and aspirations for this role. His poems have been installed as Landmarks in cities across the world and we are delighted that he will be creating a poem to be installed as a permanent projection in Canterbury.
Together with The Marlowe, Wise Words and a group of volunteers, Lemn is also bringing the first Christmas Dinner for care leavers to Canterbury. His Christmas Dinners now take place in Manchester, London, Liverpool, Leeds and Oxford and provide meaningful opportunities for communities to take care of their young people through providing scrumptious meals; presents and creating joyful memories for young care leavers on Christmas Day.
During his Laureateship Lemn will also host a series of conversations about things that matter the first of which took place in May and brought Joan Scourfield and Jacob Donne (the mother of a young boy who was killed with one punch and the young man who killed him) to the Marlowe Studio to share their belief in the power of forgiveness.
This partnership with Lemn comes at an exciting time for literature within the city. Spring 2018 will see the opening of the Poor Priests Hospital (renamed as ‘The Kit’), as a centre that will illuminate Canterbury’s literary heritage and celebrate it’s future as a centre of excellence and innovation for the written and spoken word. The Marlowe and Wise Words have a core aim to develop Canterbury as dynamic centre for literature that connects with and inspires the rest of the region. Lemn as Poet Laureate will raise the profile and aspiration for this work.
As well as Arts Council England, Canterbury’s Poet Laureate is supported by The Marlowe Theatre Development Trust.