In “Bought and Sold,” Benjamin Zephaniah asks, “What happened to the verse of fire”? “Smart big awards and prize money,” he warns, are “killing off black poetry.” Poets who seek commercial approval risk losing their ability to find what Zephaniah terms “de magic poem,” a poem that “can ease our sorrows” and celebrate “our tomorrows.” A poet of the heart and of the head, Benjamin Zephaniah writes and performs socially engaged poetry, a poetry that makes audiences laugh and cry, feel and care, think and plan, engage the world in its possibilities and its obstacles.
Poet, novelist and playwright Benjamin Zephaniah was born on 15 April 1958. He grew up in Jamaica and the Handsworth district of Birmingham, England, leaving school at 14. He moved to London in 1979 and published his first poetry collection, Pen Rhythm, in 1980.
He holds an honorary doctorate in Arts and Humanities from the University of North London (1998), was made a Doctor of Letters by the University of Central England (1999), and a Doctor of the University by the University of Staffordshire (2002). He has recently been awarded further honorary doctorates by London South Bank University, the University of Exeter and the University of Westminster.
Zephaniah’s writing includes – The Dread Affair: Collected Poems (1985) which contained a number of poems attacking the British legal system, Poetry for children – Turkeys (1994) and Funky Chickens (1996), Rasta Time in Palestine (1990), an account of a visit to the Palestinian occupied territories, contained poetry and travelogue, and novels for teens – Face (1999), described by the author as a story of ‘facial discrimination’; Refugee Boy (2001), the story of a young boy, Alem, fleeing the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea; Gangsta Rap (2004); and Teacher’s Dead (2007).
In addition to his published writing, Benjamin Zephaniah has produced numerous music recordings, including Us and Dem (1990) and Belly of de Beast (1996), and has also appeared as an actor in several television and film productions, including appearing as Moses in the film Farendg (1990). His first television play Dread Poets Society, was first screened by the BBC in 1991. His play Hurricane Dub was one of the winners of the BBC Young Playwrights Festival Award in 1998, and his stage plays have been performed at the Riverside Studios in London, at the Hay-on-Wye Literature Festival and on television. His radio play Listen to Your Parents, first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2000, won the Commission for Racial Equality Race in the Media Radio Drama Award and has been adapted for the stage, first performed by Roundabout, Nottingham Playhouse’s Theatre in Education Company, in September 2002.
Prizes and awards that Zephaniah has won
1988 BBC Young Playwrights Festival Award Hurricane Dub
2001 Commission for Racial Equality Race in the Media Radio Drama Award Listen to Your Parents
2002 Portsmouth Book Award (Longer Novel category) Refugee Boy
2005 British Book Awards Decibel Writer of the Year (shortlist)
2006 Manchester Book Award (shortlist) Gangsta Rap
You will have a chance to meet and talk with Benjamin Zephaniah at the Storymoja Hay Festival 2010.
Find out more about Zephaniah at his website
Read about books by Benjamin Zephaniah at encompassculture.com – the British Council’s book database and global online book club
Buy books by Benjamin Zephaniah at Amazon.co.uk