The Bard of Birmingham, described as a “titan of British literature” Benjamin Zephaniah has tragically died, aged just 65 years old. The news was announced on the poet’s Instagram this morning that he died earlier today with his wife by his side. Zephaniah was diagnosed with a brain tumour just eight weeks ago.
Zephaniah was born in Handsworth, Birmingham in 1958, the son of a postman fom Barbados and a Jamaican nurse. He was known for his writing, dub poetry, and more recently acting after a successful stint on Peaky Blinders.
At 22 he moved to London and soon after published his first book, Pen Rhythm. This book and much of his early work focused on dub poetry, A Jamaican style of work that has evolved into the music genre of the same name. at this time Zephaniah would also perform with a group called the Benjamin Zephaniah Band.
Throughout his career, Zephaniah became a familiar face on television, brought dub poetry to the mainstream, and wrote five novels, books for younger readers, and poetry for both adults and children too.
Today there has been an outpouring of love and fond memories of Benjamin Zephaniah, here are just a few of the kind words spoken…
A statement from the Black Writers’ Guild said today “Our family of writers is in mourning at the loss of a deeply valued friend and a titan of British literature. Benjamin was a man of integrity and an example of how to live your values.”. Zephaniah helped establish the guild.
Broadcaster Trevor Nelson said today “So sad to hear about the passing of Benjamin Zephaniah. Too young, too soon, he had a lot more to give. He was a unique talent.”
While Lenny Henry announced “I was saddened to learn of the passing of my friend Benjamin Zephaniah. His passion for poetry, his advocacy for education for all was tireless.”
Fellow poet Michael Rosen declared that “I’m devastated. I admired him, respected him, learnt from him, loved him. Love and condolences to the family and to all who loved him too.”
Today a giant of British literature left us, and the hole he’s left in the world of innovative poetry will take some filling. Thankfully he lives on in his many works, which you can access here.