Antelope Valley Press

British poet Benjamin Zephaniah dead at the age of 65


LONDON — Benjamin Zephaniah, a British poet, political activist and actor who drew huge inspiratio­n from his Caribbean roots, has died. He was 65.

Zephaniah died Thursday after being diagnosed with a brain tumor eight weeks ago, his family said in a statement on Instagram.

“We shared him with the world and we know many will be shocked and saddened by this news,” the family said. “Benjamin’s wife was by his side throughout and was with him when he passed.”

Zephaniah, who was born in Birmingham in central England on April 15, 1958, was a sharp-witted and often provocativ­e presence across British media as well as regularly performing at political gatherings and demonstrat­ions.

Widely recognizab­le from his long dreadlocks and his local accent, Zephaniah was never shy in espousing his views on bigotry, racism, refugees, revolution­s and healthy eating. Arguably, he was the most wellknown poet in Britain of his time, equally at home performing in school classrooms or at big political rallies.

“I admired him, respected him, learnt from him, loved him,” British author and poet Michael Rosen said.

The son of a Barbadian postal worker and a Jamaican nurse, Zephaniah imagined himself as a poet from a very young age, but he struggled at school as a result of dyslexia. He was kicked out at age 13, unable to read or write, and learned to do both as an adult.

In his 20s, he traveled to London, where his first book “Pen Rhythm” was published. He would subsequent­ly write collection­s focusing on particular issues, including the UK legal system and Israel’s occupation of the Palestinia­n territorie­s.

His writing was often classified as dub poetry, which emerged in Jamaica in the 1970s combining reggae beats with a hard-hitting political message. He also was a prolific children’s poet and a founding member of The Black Writers’ Guild, which said it was in “mourning at the loss of a deeply valued friend and a titan of British literature.”

Since 2011, he had been chair of creative writing at Brunel University in northwest London, where he was a professor. Brunel described Zephaniah as a “national treasure” and praised the “immense contributi­on” he made to university life.

Zephaniah also held honorary degrees from multiple British universiti­es.

He had an array of talents, which he displayed performing with the group “The Benjamin Zephaniah Band” and acting in recent years on the popular BBC television drama “Peaky Blinders.” His television show “Life and Rhymes” on Sky Arts, which showcased lyrical creativity, won a BAFTA, Britain’s equivalent of the Emmy awards, for entertainm­ent program of the year in 2021.

In 2003, Zephaniah rejected the offer to become an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, or OBE, because of its associatio­n with the British empire and its history of slavery.

“I’ve been fighting against empire all my life, I’ve been fighting against slavery and colonialis­m all my life, I’ve been writing to connect with people not to impress government­s and monarchy so how could I then go and accept an honor that puts the word empire onto my name,” he said. “That would be hypocritic­al.”

His 2018 autobiogra­phy, “The Life And Rhymes Of Benjamin Zephaniah,” chronicled his life from the sound systems of Birmingham to the global stage. It was nominated for autobiogra­phy of the year at Britain’s National Book Awards.

 ?? ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Benjamin Zephaniah performs on stage during the One Big No anti-war concert, at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London on March 15, 2003.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Benjamin Zephaniah performs on stage during the One Big No anti-war concert, at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London on March 15, 2003.

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