Remembering Benjamin Zephaniah


Shutterstock © Benjamin Zephaniah, wearing a blue shirt, sits at a desk laden with books.

The world was shocked on Thursday when inspirational poet, actor and performer Benjamin Zephaniah passed away, aged 65, after being diagnosed with a brain tumour just eight weeks ago.

Here, “The People’s Friend” remembers him.

Early life and career

Zephaniah was born and raised in Handsworth, Birmingham. His father was a Barbadian postman and his mum a Jamaican nurse.

Benjamin was dyslexic and left school at 13 unable to read or write.

At 19, he moved to London and his first collection, “Pen Rhythm”, was published. This tied in with his performances at demonstrations, youth gatherings and outside police stations.

“I was a big protester, not just against racism but also apartheid. We are a multicultural society but the institutions have to catch up with us,” he said in 2019.

Meeting Nelson Mandela

His work, which appeared on the national curriculum, was heavily influenced by Jamaican music and poetry.

He also released a number of albums, and was the first person to record with the Wailers after the death of Bob Marley, in a tribute to Nelson Mandela.

Mandela heard the tribute while in prison and later asked to meet Zephaniah.

Themes and projects

Zephaniah’s body of work dealt with themes of racism, poverty, and social injustice.

In 2003 he turned down an OBE, declaring that he was “proudly anti-empire”.

In later years he appeared in the hit TV show “Peaky Blinders” and performed on stage in The Benjamin Zephaniah Band.

Benjamin Zephaniah remembered

“Benjamin was a true pioneer and innovator. He gave the world so much,” the statement announcing his death said.

“Through an amazing career including a huge body of poems, literature, music, television and radio, Benjamin leaves us with a joyful and fantastic legacy.”

Michael Rosen, actress Adjoh Andoa, broadcaster Sir Trevor Nelson and “Peaky Blinders” star Cillian Murphy are among the famous names who have paid public tribute to him.

Recommended reading

Some of Zephaniah’s most beloved poems are “Talking Turkeys!”, “Nature Trail”, “Who’s Who” and “Vegan Steven”.


Benjamin Zephaniah remembered: Read our exclusive 2021 interview

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Remembering Benjamin Zephaniah

Shutterstock © Benjamin Zephaniah, wearing a blue shirt, sits at a desk laden with books.

The world was shocked on Thursday when inspirational poet, actor and performer Benjamin Zephaniah passed away, aged 65, after being diagnosed with a brain tumour just eight weeks ago.

Here, “The People’s Friend” remembers him.

Early life and career

Zephaniah was born and raised in Handsworth, Birmingham. His father was a Barbadian postman and his mum a Jamaican nurse.

Benjamin was dyslexic and left school at 13 unable to read or write.

At 19, he moved to London and his first collection, “Pen Rhythm”, was published. This tied in with his performances at demonstrations, youth gatherings and outside police stations.

“I was a big protester, not just against racism but also apartheid. We are a multicultural society but the institutions have to catch up with us,” he said in 2019.

Meeting Nelson Mandela

His work, which appeared on the national curriculum, was heavily influenced by Jamaican music and poetry.

He also released a number of albums, and was the first person to record with the Wailers after the death of Bob Marley, in a tribute to Nelson Mandela.

Mandela heard the tribute while in prison and later asked to meet Zephaniah.

Themes and projects

Zephaniah’s body of work dealt with themes of racism, poverty, and social injustice.

In 2003 he turned down an OBE, declaring that he was “proudly anti-empire”.

In later years he appeared in the hit TV show “Peaky Blinders” and performed on stage in The Benjamin Zephaniah Band.

Benjamin Zephaniah remembered

“Benjamin was a true pioneer and innovator. He gave the world so much,” the statement announcing his death said.

“Through an amazing career including a huge body of poems, literature, music, television and radio, Benjamin leaves us with a joyful and fantastic legacy.”

Michael Rosen, actress Adjoh Andoa, broadcaster Sir Trevor Nelson and “Peaky Blinders” star Cillian Murphy are among the famous names who have paid public tribute to him.

Recommended reading

Some of Zephaniah’s most beloved poems are “Talking Turkeys!”, “Nature Trail”, “Who’s Who” and “Vegan Steven”.


Benjamin Zephaniah remembered: Read our exclusive 2021 interview

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