Benjamin Zephaniah: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Benjamin Zephaniah.

  • Benjamin Zephaniah was a British poet and writer. In 2008, he was voted one of Britain’s top 50 post World War 2 writers, in a poll by the Times newspaper.

  • Benjamin Zephaniah was born in Birmingham in April, 1958, the son of Caribbean immigrants. He was dyslexic, and left school at 13, as he couldn’t read or write.
  • His poetry was influenced by the street culture of Jamaica. His first performance was at age 10, and by 15, he was quite well known in and around Birmingham.
  • Benjamin Zephaniah moved to London when he was 22.
  • He published his first book of poetry which sold well. He also made a name writing and reading his poems in clubs and other venues.
  • His poems seemed to capture the mood of the early 1980s in Britain, and were often about homelessness or unemployment. He was described as Britain’s most recognizable poet.
  • Zephaniah was known for his strong and often controversial beliefs and opinions. He suggested changing the British voting system, and he publicly turned down an OBE medal.
  • His poetry book for children, Talking Turkeys, was an immediate bestseller. He has also written several novels aimed specifically at teenagers, as well as several collections of poetry.
  • In 1991, Zephaniah performed on all 6 continents in just a 3-week period.
  • He had a fan club in the central African country of Malawi, and spent part of his time in Beijing, China.
  • He has produced several records, mostly in a reggae or dub poetry style. However, he described his album Naked as being a mix of jazz, reggae, rock and hip-hop.
  • Benjamin Zephaniah was awarded the BBC Young Playwright’s Award, as well as honorary doctorates from several UK universities. His version of the song Tam Lyn Retold won a best song award in 2008.
  • He was a vegan and campaigned for animal rights.
  • He played the character of Jimmy in the Peaky Blinders TV series.
  • He died on 7th December 2023 following his diagnosis of a brain tumor two months previously.

What next? Discover facts about other famous poets by visiting our Books and Authors section.