My Name Is Why

Lemn Sissay

My Name Is Why by Lemn Sissay (Hardback ISBN 9781786892348) book cover

Available as Hardback, eBook, Downloadable audio

29 August 2019

A memoir with a message – about growing up in care and finding hope, determination and creativity – from British poet and national treasure Lemn Sissay

How does a government steal a child and then imprison him? How does it keep it a secret? This story is how.

At the age of seventeen, after a childhood in a foster family followed by six years in care homes, Norman Greenwood was given his birth certificate. He learned that his real name was not Norman. It was Lemn Sissay. He was British and Ethiopian. And he learned that his mother had been pleading for his safe return to her since his birth.

This is Lemn’s story: a story of neglect and determination, misfortune and hope, cruelty and triumph.

Sissay reflects on his childhood, self-expression and Britishness, and in doing so explores the institutional care system, race, family and the meaning of home. Written with all the lyricism and power you would expect from one of the nation’s best-loved poets, this moving, frank and timely memoir is the result of a life spent asking questions, and a celebration of the redemptive power of creativity.


“An extraordinary story”
sunday Times

See more reviews

“The engaging transfiguring truth of My Name Is Why is like a baptism of truth – leaving you washed clean of lies and reborn in love. Profound in its kindness, intelligence and unselfish heart, this book is important and unputdownable”
Jessica Hynes

“I have never read a memoir like it. A blistering account of a young life in the hands of neglectful authorities. It’s a quest for understanding, for home, for answers. Grips like a thriller. Astounding”
Matt Haig

“The most amazing thing about this book is that it’s not made up. This actually happened. It is an incredible story”
Benjamin Zephaniah

“No Government Inquiry could ever expose the inhumanity of our nation’s care system more effectively than this memoir. The evidence is all here. I wept at the sheer monumental cruelty of it. The racism. The crushing, degrading absence of respect and encouragement. The simple yearning for love and a sense of self. Lemn Sissay is a triumph of human survival. Shame on all of us that this happens in our midst”
Helena Kennedy Qc


Lemn Sissay

Lemn Sissay is a BAFTA-nominated, award-winning international writer and broadcaster. He has authored collections of poetry and plays. His Landmark poems are visible in London, Manchester, Huddersfield and Addis Ababa. He has been made an Honorary Doctor by the universities of Manchester, Kent, Huddersfield and Brunel. Sissay was awarded an MBE for services to literature and in 2019 he was awarded the PEN Pinter Prize. He is Chancellor of the University of Manchester. He is British and Ethiopian.

@lemnsissay | lemnsissay.com