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Poet and author Benjamin Zephaniah dies aged 65

07 Dec 2023 4 minute read
Benjamin Zephaniah performing on stage. Photo Yui Mok/PA Wire

Writer and poet Benjamin Zephaniah has died at the age of 65, his family have announced.

The dub poet, known for his works about refugees and healthy eating and who also appeared in hit BBC show Peaky Blinders as Jeremiah Jesus, had been diagnosed with a brain tumour shortly before his death.

In 2014, Zephaniah worked with residents of Swansea’s Townhill and Mayhill area on a project called Poets on the Hill, exploring the legacy of Dylan Thomas in the city and culminating in performances at the Fairfield Social Club.

Zephaniah’s family said in a statement: “It is with great sadness and regret that we announced the death of our beloved husband, son and brother in the early hours of this morning 7th December 2023.

“Benjamin was diagnosed with a brain tumour eight weeks ago. Benjamin’s wife was by his side throughout and was with him when he passed.

“We shared him with the world and we know many will be shocked and saddened by this news.

“Benjamin was a true pioneer and innovator, he gave the world so much. Through an amazing career including a huge body of poems, literature, music, television, and radio, Benjamin leaves us with a joyful and fantastic legacy.

“Thank you for the love you have shown Professor Benjamin Zephaniah.”

Life-changing

Zoe Murphy, youth worker, writer and part of the Poets from the Hill collective said: “We had the absolute pleasure of meeting Benjamin during a project in 2014 that took the residents of Townhill to perform and write a revision of Under Milkwood based on the estate.

“It was a life-changing project for us as Poets on the Hill was born. We were lucky enough to get a foreword from Benjamin for our first anthology and we will never forget him performing ‘Do Not Go Gentle’ at the Fairfield Social Club.

“He always encouraged, supported and championed us and made us realise that poetry was for the people and not a select few. He helped us find our confidence and voice. He was a poetry powerhouse among so many other things and we will always be grateful that we met him.

“Rest in Power Benjamin.”

During his first visit to the National Eisteddfod, which took place in Meifod, Powys in 2015, he called for the Welsh language to be taught in schools in England.

Mr Zephaniah said pupils should have a greater awareness of the “different cultures and languages” within Britain.

Speaking to BBC Wales’ Cymru Fyw at the time, he said: “Hindi, Chinese and French are taught [in schools], so why not Welsh? And why not Cornish? They’re part of our culture.”

He said he would “love to learn Welsh” but added it is “probably too late”.

Dyslexia

The Birmingham-born poet was nominated for autobiography of the year at the National Book Awards for his work, The Life And Rhymes Of Benjamin Zephaniah, and it was also shortlisted for the Costa Book Award in 2018.

He was kicked out of school at the age of 13, unable to read or write and had dyslexia.

In his 20s he travelled to London where his first book Pen Rhythm was published by Page One Book.

His first writings used dub poetry, a Jamaica style of work that has evolved into the music genre of the same name, and he would also perform with the group The Benjamin Zephaniah Band.

Zephaniah, who rejected an OBE in 2003 due to the association of such an honour with the British Empire and its history of slavery, was often outspoken on racial abuse and education.


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Cat
Cat
2 months ago

What a terrible loss. A lovely man, an activist and a great poet.

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
2 months ago

I cried when I read this morning that he had died.

I admired him for many reasons, especially for turning down an obe!

My condolences to his family and friends.

Last edited 2 months ago by Richard Davies

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