Lemn Sissay’s main achievements as Chancellor
Lemn Sissay’s time as Chancellor is set to finish on August 1 as he is replaced by Nazir Afzal. Sissay has been Chancellor at the university for six years, following his election in 2015.
Prior to becoming UoM’s Chancellor, Sissay wrote numerous books of poetry and articles, made records, radio documentaries, public art and plays as well as carrying out significant charitable work.
Having moved to Manchester at 18, his strong connection to the city goes back decades. When in conversation with The Mancunion he revealed that he performed at Manchester’s famous club Hacienda in the 1980s, and now his poetry is displayed across areas of Manchester including Oxford Road. His poem ‘Flags’ is also in the flagstones of Tib Street, Northern Quarter.
Since becoming Chancellor he has significantly helped to shape the university for the better. In 2017, he created the ‘Lemn Sissay Law Bursaries’ to increase the number of black males studying law at the university, addressing the under-representation of black males in the profession.
He also helped to expand the Equity and Merit Scholarships at Manchester for funded Master’s degrees to include prospective Ethiopian students. Additionally, the Lemn Sissay Foundation organises Christmas dinners with care leavers across the UK.
He has taken a hands-on approach to literature at Manchester, making appearances and hosting events at the university. He wrote and performed the poem ‘Making a Difference’ in 2017, which celebrated the university’s commitment to social responsibility. Also in 2017, he hosted ‘An Evening of poetry with Lemn Sissay MBE’. It was one successful night of poetry reading among many, and he read his favourite poetry from the Canongate collection, Gold from the Stone.
He also took part in the Manchester Literature Festival 2021, in conversation with Rachel Holmes. They spoke about Sylvia Pankhurst’s commitment to human rights and activism. This year he launched a climate-themed Creative Manchester Micropoetry competition, entries for which will close June 21.
During his tenure, he also achieved some major career landmarks outside the university. In 2019 he released his highly acclaimed memoir My Name Is Why, where he shares his story of mistreatment under the British care system after being separated from his mother as an infant. This year he was also awarded with an OBE for his services in literature and charity.
He had a major impact on the local community by consistently getting involved in charitable work both in Manchester and the rest of the UK. As well as this he will be remembered for his hands-on approach and clear presence at the university, leading to interesting conversations through literature and inspiring all of the students with his work.