Brighton Festival will return with guest director Lemn Sissay on Sat 1 – Sun 23 May 2021

Lemn Sissay MBE announced as Brighton Festival 2020 Guest Director

The acclaimed British and Ethiopian poet, playwright, broadcaster and speaker, Lemn Sissay MBE has been announced as the twelfth Brighton Festival Guest Director, following in the footsteps of Rokia Traoré (2019), David Shrigley (2018), Kate Tempest (2017) and Laurie Anderson (2016) amongst others.

A BAFTA nominated award winning writer, best-selling author, prolific speaker and performer, Sissay has inspired audiences across the world. He was the official poet of the London 2012 Olympics and his Landmark Poems can be found on the walls of hospitals, libraries, pubs, universities and train stations, bringing his writing to communities in public spaces every day. Sissay is Chancellor of Manchester University and was awarded an MBE for services to literature in 2010, PEN Pinter Prize 2019 and Points of Light Award from the Prime Minister in 2017.

In his 2019 memoir, My Name Is Why, Sissay reflects on his childhood, self-expression and Britishness, and explores the institutional care system he was raised in, race, family and the meaning of home.  His moving, frank and timely story is the result of a life spent asking questions, and a celebration of the redemptive power of creativity.

The publication is a Sunday Times number one bestseller and has been listed as Book of the Year in The Times, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, Sunday Times, New Statesman and The Herald.

“Art saves lives, it literally saves lives,” Sissay said. “Art is how we translate the human spirit. That’s why you have art and religions. That’s why people sing. That’s why we read poems at funerals and weddings, we need some bridge between the spiritual, the physical, the past, the present, the future. Something that lifts us to a higher place, that celebrates our humanity. And here we get to celebrate together, in an arts festival on the edge of the sea, in the month of my birthday. What an honour that is.”

Andrew Comben, Chief Executive of Brighton Festival added: “We’re thrilled Lemn is directing Brighton Festival 2020. He is a truly inspiring artist whose work connects with everyone and wakes us up to what it means to be human. His generous, collaborative imagination ranges across everything we do and he has an instinctive feel for Brighton. We can’t wait to see his festival brought to life next May.”

Further Festival highlights announced today include a contemporary adaptation of The War of the Worlds by Rhum and Clay Theatre Company at Worthing’s Connaught Theatre. Inspired by H.G. Wells’ novel and Orson Welles’ legendary 1938 radio broadcast, the Brighton Festival co-production has been playfully reimagined for the fake news generation and will leave audiences questioning what is truth and what is fiction.

Also appearing exclusively in Brighton, ahead of their London date in May are Malian musicians Amadou & Mariam, performing together with the Grammy Award-winning gospel group the Blind Boys of Alabama. The artists have forged a friendship that combines contemporary African sounds with African-American roots music, coming to Brighton Dome Concert Hall for an unforgettable Festival event.

The Festival opening weekend will feature the world première of Double Murder, by Hofesh Shechter Company. The thrilling, two-part contemporary dance for our times, has been created by the multitalented choreographer Hofesh Shechter OBE and will be performed by ten of his inimitable dancers, accompanied by the epic sounds of a Shechter-composed score.

Established in 1967, Brighton Festival is the largest and most established annual curated multi-arts festival in England. Running from 2 to 24 May 2020, it opens with the popular Children’s Parade, produced in partnership with Same Sky. Community and participation events will appear across the city – Our Place will continue to bring free performances and arts activities programmed by and for the communities of Hangleton and East Brighton; Young City Reads encourages school children to share their love of reading and Without Walls family friendly events will pop-up in unexpected outdoor locations.

Full programme details will be announced at the Brighton Festival 2020 launch on Tues 11 Feb 2020.

Double Murder image by Todd MacDonald-Illuminations

Lemn Sissay images by Hamish Brown

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