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Writer, Poet And Peaky Blinders Star Benjamin Zephaniah Dies

Thursday, 7 December 2023 16:42

By (C) Sky News: Andy Hayes, news reporter

Benjamin Zephaniah, the British poet and writer, has died aged 65.

He was diagnosed with a brain tumour eight weeks ago, with a post on his Instagram page describing him as a "true pioneer and innovator" who "gave the world so much".

"Benjamin's wife was by his side throughout and was with him when he passed," it added.

Fourteen collections of his poetry were published as well as five novels.

He acted, too, playing the role of Jeremiah Jesus in Peaky Blinders.

"Benjamin leaves us a joyful and fantastic legacy," his family said.

He turned down an OBE in 2003, writing: "Benjamin Zephaniah OBE - no way Mr Blair, no way Mrs Queen. I am profoundly anti-empire."

He begged Tony Blair to meet him to discuss crime in Britain and told the Queen to stop "going on about the empire".

When he was younger he was "involved in gangs and crime" and "just knew I could do better", he told Sky News in 2020.

Born and raised in the Handsworth area of Birmingham, he had dyslexia and left school at the age of 13, unable to read or write.

But he was given an old, manual typewriter and started performing poetry on the "sound systems of Birmingham".

Waking up one morning, he said to himself, "that's it, I'm going to London".

His first book - Pen Rhythm - was published in 1980 when he was in his early 20s.

After becoming successful he bought a BMW but was stopped four times by the police and sold it, describing racism at the time as "very in your face".

Zephaniah's first writings were in dub poetry - a Jamaican style which evolved from the music genre of the same name.

As a young man he was "very angry with the world" and said in 2020 he was "still angry with the world" but had an "outlet" through his writing.

"That has saved my life," he said.

Zephaniah was nominated for autobiography of the year at the National Book Awards for The Life And Rhymes Of Benjamin Zephaniah.

It was also shortlisted for the Costa Book Award in 2018.

The Black Writers' Guild said Zephaniah was a "deeply valued friend" and a "titan of British literature".

He was also a "testimony to the transformational power of reading" and the "importance of craft", it added.

The children's author and poet Michael Rosen said he was "devastated" and had "learnt from him" and "loved him".

The Hay book festival said on social media: "Thank you for everything."

DJ and presenter Trevor Nelson said Zephaniah was a "unique talent" who had a "lot more to give".

Aston Villa Football Club said Zephaniah was a "lifelong fan" and had served as an ambassador for the club's foundation.

It said it was "deeply saddened" about the "legendary" writer and poet's passing.

Sky News

(c) Sky News 2023: Writer, poet and Peaky Blinders star Benjamin Zephaniah dies

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