Benjamin Obadiah Iqbal Zephaniah
(born 15 April 1958, Birmingham
Birmingham is a city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands of England. It is the most populous British city outside the capital London, with a population of 1,036,900 , and lies at the heart of the West Midlands conurbation, the second most populous urban area in the United Kingdom with a...
, England) is an English writer and dub poet
Dub poetry is a form of performance poetry of West Indian origin, which evolved out of dub music consisting of spoken word over reggae rhythms in Jamaica in the 1970s....
. He is a well-known figure in contemporary English literature
English literature is the literature written in the English language, including literature composed in English by writers not necessarily from England; for example, Robert Burns was Scottish, James Joyce was Irish, Joseph Conrad was Polish, Dylan Thomas was Welsh, Edgar Allan Poe was American, J....
, and was included in The Times
list of Britain's top 50 post-war writers in 2008.
Life and Work
Zephaniah was born and raised in the Handsworth
Handsworth is an inner city area of Birmingham in the West Midlands, England. The Local Government Act 1894 divided the ancient Staffordshire parish of Handsworth into two urban districts: Handsworth and Perry Barr. Handsworth was annexed to the county borough of Birmingham in Warwickshire in 1911...
district of Birmingham, which he called the "Jamaican capital of Europe". He is the son of a Barbadian
Barbadian may refer to anything of or relating to Barbados and may also refer directly to:* Barbadian football* Barbadian cuisine* Barbadian dollar, a currency used in Barbados ISO 4217 code "BBD"....
postman and a Jamaican nurse. A dyslexic
Dyslexia is a very broad term defining a learning disability that impairs a person's fluency or comprehension accuracy in being able to read, and which can manifest itself as a difficulty with phonological awareness, phonological decoding, orthographic coding, auditory short-term memory, or rapid...
, he attended an approved school
Approved School is a term formerly used in the United Kingdom to mean a particular kind of residential institution to which young people could be sent by a court, usually for committing offences but sometimes because they were deemed to be beyond parental control...
but left aged 13 unable to read or write.
He writes that his poetry is strongly influenced by the music and poetry of Jamaica and what he calls "street politics". His first performance was in church when he was ten, and by the age of fifteen, his poetry was already known among Handsworth's Afro-Caribbean
The British African Caribbean communities are residents of the United Kingdom who are of West Indian background and whose ancestors were primarily indigenous to Africa...
and Asian communities. He received a criminal record with the police as a young man and served a prison sentence for burglary. Tired of the limitations of being a black poet communicating with black people only, he decided to expand his audience, and headed to London at the age of twenty-two.
He became actively involved in a workers co-operative in Stratford, London
Stratford is a place in the London Borough of Newham, England. It is located east northeast of Charing Cross and is one of the major centres identified in the London Plan. It was historically an agrarian settlement in the ancient parish of West Ham, which transformed into an industrial suburb...
, which led to the publication of his first book of poetry, called Pen Rhythm
, published by Page One Books in 1980. Three editions were published. Zephaniah has said that his mission is to fight the dead image of poetry in academia
Academia is the community of students and scholars engaged in higher education and research.-Etymology:The word comes from the akademeia in ancient Greece. Outside the city walls of Athens, the gymnasium was made famous by Plato as a center of learning...
, and to "take [it] everywhere" to people who do not read books so he turned poetry readings into concert-like performances.
His second collection of poetry, The Dread Affair: Collected Poems
(1985) contained a number of poems attacking the British legal system. Rasta Time in Palestine
(1990), an account of a visit to the Palestinian occupied territories, contained poetry and travelogue.
His album Rasta
, which featured The Wailers
The Wailers Band are a reggae band formed by the remaining members of Bob Marley & The Wailers, following the death of Bob Marley in 1981.-Previous Wailers' incarnations:The Wailers started as Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh...
' first recording since the death of Bob Marley
Robert Nesta "Bob" Marley, OM was a Jamaican singer-songwriter and musician. He was the rhythm guitarist and lead singer for the ska, rocksteady and reggae band Bob Marley & The Wailers...
as well as a tribute to Nelson Mandela
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, and was the first South African president to be elected in a fully representative democratic election. Before his presidency, Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist, and the leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing...
, gained him international prestige and topped the Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia refers to three political entities that existed successively on the western part of the Balkans during most of the 20th century....
n pop charts. It was because of this recording that he was introduced to the political prisoner and soon-to-be South African president Nelson Mandela, and in 1996, Mandela requested that Zephaniah host the president's Two Nations Concert at the Royal Albert Hall
The Royal Albert Hall is a concert hall situated on the northern edge of the South Kensington area, in the City of Westminster, London, England, best known for holding the annual summer Proms concerts since 1941....
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...
. Zephaniah was poet in residence at the chambers of Michael Mansfield
Michael Mansfield QC is an English barrister. A republican, vegetarian, socialist, and self-described "radical lawyer", he has participated in prominent and controversial court cases and inquests involving accused IRA bombers, the Bloody Sunday incident, and the deaths of Jean Charles de Menezes...
QC, and sat in on the inquiry into Bloody Sunday
-Events :* Bloody Sunday , a demonstration in London, England against British repression in Ireland* Bloody Sunday , a day of high casualties in the Second Boer War, South Africa...
and other cases, these experiences leading to his Too Black, Too Strong
poetry collection (2001). We Are Britain!
(2002) is a collection of poems celebrating cultural diversity in Britain.
Benjamin Zephaniah became a very successful children's poet with his first book of poetry for children called Talking Turkeys
which had to go into an emergency reprint after just six weeks. In 1999 he wrote an immensely successful novel for teenagers, Face
, the first of four novels to date.
Zephaniah lived for many years in East London but since 2008 has divided his time between Beijing
Beijing , also known as Peking , is the capital of the People's Republic of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of 19,612,368 as of 2010. The city is the country's political, cultural, and educational center, and home to the headquarters for most of China's...
and a village near Spalding
Spalding is a market town with a population of 30,000 on the River Welland in the South Holland district of Lincolnshire, England. Little London is a hamlet directly south of Spalding on the B1172 road....
Lincolnshire is a county in the east of England. It borders Norfolk to the south east, Cambridgeshire to the south, Rutland to the south west, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire to the west, South Yorkshire to the north west, and the East Riding of Yorkshire to the north. It also borders...
. He also lived in Indonesia for 5 years.
He was married for twelve years to Amina, a theatre administrator, who left him in 2001.
In November 2003, Zephaniah wrote in The Guardian
that he had turned down an OBE
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by George V of the United Kingdom. The Order comprises five classes in civil and military divisions...
from the Queen
Elizabeth II is the constitutional monarch of 16 sovereign states known as the Commonwealth realms: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize,...
because it reminded him of "how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised."
Zephaniah is a well known supporter of Aston Villa F.C.
Aston Villa Football Club is an English professional association football club based in Witton, Birmingham. The club was founded in 1874 and have played at their current home ground, Villa Park, since 1897. Aston Villa were founder members of The Football League in 1888. They were also founder...
and is the patron for an Aston Villa supporters' website.
Zephaniah is an honorary patron of The Vegan Society, Viva! (Vegetarians International Voice for Animals), EVOLVE! Campaigns, the anti-racism Newham Monitoring Project
Newham Monitoring Project is a grassroots community-based anti-racist organisation in the London Borough of Newham, London, England with a remit to provide support work against racial discrimination and violence, police misconduct and around civil rights issues. It provides advice, support,...
, Tower Hamlets Summer University
Tower Hamlets Summer University is a British charity in the Tower Hamlets area of London which offers independent learning programs for people from 11 to 25 years of age...
and an animal rights
Animal rights, also known as animal liberation, is the idea that the most basic interests of non-human animals should be afforded the same consideration as the similar interests of human beings...
advocate. In 2004 he wrote the foreword to Keith Mann
Keith Mann is a British animal rights campaigner and writer, alleged by police in 2005 to be at the top of the Animal Liberation Front pyramid. He is the author of From Dusk 'til Dawn: An Insider's View of the Growth of the Animal Liberation Movement...
's book From Dusk 'til Dawn: An insider's view of the growth of the Animal Liberation Movement
, a book about the Animal Liberation Front
The Animal Liberation Front is an international, underground leaderless resistance that engages in illegal direct action in pursuit of animal liberation...
. In August 2007, he announced that he would be launching the Animal Liberation Project, alongside People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is an American animal rights organization based in Norfolk, Virginia, and led by Ingrid Newkirk, its international president. A non-profit corporation with 300 employees and two million members and supporters, it claims to be the largest animal rights...
. He became a vegan when he read poems about shimmering fish floating in an underwater paradise, and birds flying free in the clear blue sky.
The poet joined Amnesty International
Amnesty International is an international non-governmental organisation whose stated mission is "to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated."Following a publication of Peter Benenson's...
in speaking out against homophobia in Jamaica
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender rights in Jamaica are dominated by the prohibition of sexual acts between men. Sexual acts between women are legal, by virtue of the absence of any reference to them in law...
, saying "For many years Jamaica was associated with freedom fighters and liberators, so it hurts when I see that the home of my parents is now associated with the persecution of people because of their sexual orientation."
Zephaniah has spoken in favour of a British Republic and the dis-establishment of the crown.
Zephaniah appeared in literature to support changing the British electoral system from first-past-the-post
First-past-the-post voting refers to an election won by the candidate with the most votes. The winning potato candidate does not necessarily receive an absolute majority of all votes cast.-Overview:...
to alternative vote
Instant-runoff voting , also known as preferential voting, the alternative vote and ranked choice voting, is a voting system used to elect one winner. Voters rank candidates in order of preference, and their ballots are counted as one vote for their first choice candidate. If a candidate secures a...
for electing Members of Parliament to the House of Commons in the Alternative Vote referendum in 2011.
He is a supporter of the Green Party of England and Wales
The Green Party of England and Wales is a political party in England and Wales which follows the traditions of Green politics and maintains a strong commitment to social progressivism. It is the largest Green party in the United Kingdom, containing within it various regional divisions including...
Zephaniah won the BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...
Young Playwright's Award. He has been awarded honorary doctorates by the University of North London
The University of North London was a university in the United Kingdom from 1992 to 2002. On 1 August 2002, it merged with London Guildhall University to form London Metropolitan University. The former University of North London premises now form the new university's north campus, situated on...
(in 1998), the University of Central England
Birmingham City University is a British university in the city of Birmingham, England. It is the second largest of three universities in the city, the other two being the Aston University and University of Birmingham...
(in 1999), Staffordshire University
Staffordshire University is a university with its main campus based in the city of Stoke-on-Trent, and with other campuses in Stafford, Lichfield and Shrewsbury.- History :...
(in 2002), London South Bank University
London South Bank University is a university in south London. With over 25,000 students and 1,700 staff, it is based in the London Borough of Southwark, near the South Bank of the River Thames, from which it takes its name...
(in 2003), the University of Exeter
The University of Exeter is a public university in South West England. It belongs to the 1994 Group, an association of 19 of the United Kingdom's smaller research-intensive universities....
and the University of Westminster
The University of Westminster is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom. Its origins go back to the foundation of the Royal Polytechnic Institution in 1838, and it was awarded university status in 1992.The university's headquarters and original campus are based on Regent...
(in 2006). On 17 July 2008 Zephaniah received an honorary doctorate from the University of Birmingham
The University of Birmingham is a British Redbrick university located in the city of Birmingham, England. It received its royal charter in 1900 as a successor to Birmingham Medical School and Mason Science College . Birmingham was the first Redbrick university to gain a charter and thus...
. He was listed at 48 in The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...
' list of 50 greatest postwar writers.
He has released several albums of original music. He was awarded Best Original Song in the Hancocks 2008, Talkawhile Awards for Folk Music (as voted by members of Talkawhile.co.uk) for his version of Tam Lyn Retold
recorded with The Imagined Village
The Imagined Village is a folk musical project founded by Simon Emmerson of the Afro Celt Sound System. It is intended to produce modern folk music that represents modern multiculturalism in the United Kingdom and as such, features musicians from a wide variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds...
. He collected the Award live at The Cambridge Folk Festival on 2 August 2008 and described himself as a "Rasta Folkie".
- Pen Rhythm (1980)
- The Dread Affair: Collected Poems (1985) Arena
- City Psalms (1992) Bloodaxe Books
- Inna Liverpool (1992) AK Press
- Talking Turkeys (1995) Puffin Books
Puffin Books is the children's imprint of British publishers Penguin Books. Since the 1960s it has been the largest publisher of children's books in the UK and much of the English-speaking world.-Early history:...
- Propa Propaganda (1996) Bloodaxe Books
- Funky Chickens (1997) Puffin
- School's Out: Poems Not for School (1997) AK Press
- Funky Turkeys (Audiobook) (1999) AB hntj
- White Comedy (Unknown)
- Wicked World! (2000) Puffin
- Too Black, Too Strong (2001) Bloodaxe Books
- The Little Book of Vegan Poems (2001) AK Press
- Reggae Head (Audiobook) 57 Productions
Face by British-Jamaican author and poet Benjamin Zephaniah is a novel published in 1999 about a teenage boy who suffers facial injuries in a car accident.-Plot summary:...
(1999) Bloomsbury (published in children's and adult editions)
- Refugee Boy (2001) Bloomsbury
- Gangsta Rap (2004) Bloomsbury
- Teacher's Dead (2007) Bloomsbury
- We are Britain (2002) Frances Lincoln
- Primary Rhyming Dictionary (2004) Chambers Harrap
- J is for Jamaica (2006) Frances Lincoln
- My Story (2011), Collins
- When I Grow Up (2011), Frances Lincoln
- Playing the Right Tune (1985)
- Job Rocking (1987)
- Delirium (1987)
- Streetwise (1990)
- Mickey Tekka (1991)
- Listen to Your Parents (included in Theatre Centre: Plays for Young People - Celebrating 50 Years of Theatre Centre (2003) Aurora Metro, also published by Longman, 2007)
- Face: The Play (with Richard Conlon)
- Didn't You Kill My Brother?
"Didn't You Kill My Brother?" is an episode of The Comic Strip Presents..., a British television comedy. CBS Records released the theme song, also titled "Didn't You Kill My Brother?" as a single in 1985....
(1987) - Rufus
Farendj is a 1990 French drama film directed by Sabine Prenczina and starring Tim Roth, Marie Matheron and Matthias Habich....
(1989) - Moses
- Truth or Dairy (1994) - The Vegan Society (UK)
- Crucial Tales (1996) - Richard's father
- Making the Connection
"Making the Connection" is the 159th episode of the ABC television series Desperate Housewives. It is the second episode of the show's eighth season and was broadcast on October 2, 2011.-Plot:...
(2010) - Environment Films / The Vegan Society (UK)
- Rasta (1982) Upright (reissued 1989) Workers Playtime (UK Indie
The UK Independent Chart or Indie Chart is a chart of the best-selling independent record releases in the UK.- History :In the wake of punk, small record labels began to spring up, as an outlet for artists that were unwilling to sign contracts with major record companies, or were not considered...
- Us An Dem (1990) Island
Island Records is a record label that was founded by Chris Blackwell in Jamaica. It was based in the United Kingdom for many years and is now owned by Universal Music Group...
- Back to Roots (1995) Acid Jazz
Acid Jazz is a record label based in east London. It takes its name from acid jazz, a genre of jazz music. Alternative version states that the genre itself was named after the record label...
- Belly of De Beast (1996) Ariwa
- Naked (2005) One Little Indian
- Naked & Mixed-Up (2006) One Little Indian (Benjamin Zephaniah Vs. Rodney-P)
- Dub Ranting EP (1982) Radical Wallpaper
- "Big Boys Don't Make Girls Cry" 12-inch single (1984) Upright
- "Free South Africa" (1986)
- "Crisis" 12-inch single (1992) Workers Playtime
- "Empire" (1995) Bomb the Bass
Bomb the Bass is the umbrella title for the output of British musician and producer, Tim Simenon. The band, which has evolved its style over the years, has been classed as electronic or dance....
with Zephaniah & Sinéad O'Connor
Sinéad Marie Bernadette O'Connor is an Irish singer-songwriter. She rose to fame in the late 1980s with her debut album The Lion and the Cobra and achieved worldwide success in 1990 with a cover of the song "Nothing Compares 2 U"....
- Heading for the Door by Back to Base (2000) MPR Records
- Friends The One With The Embryos (2002) Channel 4
- Open Wide (2004) Dubioza kolektiv
Dubioza kolektiv is a Bosnian band from Zenica, whose music consists of various styles ranging from Reggae, Dub and Rock intermixed with political lyrics along with uplifting and melodic tendencies.-History:...
(C) & (P) Gramofon
- Rebel by Toddla T
Toddla T is the stage name of Thomas Mackenzie Bell – a DJ, record producer, re-mixer and composer from Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England.- Biography :Toddla T, born 22 February 1985, was raised in Sheffield where he attended King Edward VII School...
(2009) 1965 Records