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Benjamin Zephaniah

Benjamin Zephaniah is an oral poet, novelist, playwright, children’s writer and reggae artist. Born in 1958 in Birmingham, he grew up in Jamaica and in Handsworth, where he was sent to an approved school for being uncontrollable, rebellious and ‘a born failure’, ending up in jail for burglary. After prison he turned from crime to music and poetry. In 1989 he was nominated for Oxford Professor of Poetry, and has since received honorary doctorates from several English universities, but famously refused to accept a nomination for an OBE in 2003. He was the first person to record with the Wailers after the death of Bob Marley, in a musical tribute to Nelson Mandela, which Mandela heard while in prison on Robben Island. Their later meetings led to Zephaniah working with children in South African townships and hosting the President’s Two Nations Concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1996.

His first book of poems, Pen Rhythm, was produced in 1980 by a small East London publishing cooperative, Page One Books. His second collection, The Dread Affair, was published by Hutchinson’s short-lived Arena imprint in 1985. He has since published three collections with Bloodaxe, City Psalms (1992), Propa Propaganda (1996) and Too Black, Too Strong (2001), the latter including poems written while working with Michael Mansfield QC and other Tooks barristers on the Stephen Lawrence case.

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