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'A man of integrity': Tributes pour in after writer and poet Benjamin Zephaniah dies aged 65

Trailblazing writer and poet Benjamin Zephaniah has died aged 65, leaving behind a “joyful legacy" of art and activism

Benjamin Zephaniah

Benjamin Zephaniah

Poet Benjamin Zephaniah has died aged 65, leaving behind a “joyful legacy” of art and activism.

The Birmingham born writer passed away early on Wednesday (6 December) morning. He was diagnosed with a brain tumour just eight weeks ago.

Zephaniah’s family confirmed his death in a statement posted on social media.

“Benjamin’s wife was by his side throughout and was with him when he passed,” the post reads. “We shared him with the world and we know many will be shocked and saddened by this news. Benjamin was a true pioneer and innovator, he gave the world so much.

“Through an amazing career including a huge body of poems, literature, music, television and radio, Benjamin leaves us with a joyful and fantastic legacy.”

Zephaniah dropped out of school age 13, unable to read or write due to his dyslexia. But he published his first dub-poetry collection Pen Rhythm at just 22, and quickly ascended the London poetry scene.

“There was no spoken word scene then. We literally created the spoken word scene you see today. That could be seen as a golden age for poetry and spoken word,” he told the Big Issue in 2020.

Zephaniah is also well known for his children’s books, including the 1994 bestseller Talking Turkeys. But much of his work dealt with racism, injustice and poverty – themes he was deeply passionate about.

“When you come from a community that has no voice and is not being listened to, when you’ve had the kind of experiences I’ve had, you want to shout about it a bit, you know?,” he said in The Big Issue’s 2020 interview.

“So I love that fire they bring. And I remember it. I still have a lot of it. That’s why I’m still here. That is why I’m still doing poetry.”

Tributes have poured in. Writer Michael Rosen said the death was “terrible and tragic”.

“I’m devastated. I admired him, respected him, learnt from him, loved him,” he wrote.

Radio presenter Trevor Nelson echoed this sentiment. “So sad to hear about the passing of Benjamin Zephaniah,” he posted. “Too young, too soon, he had a lot more to give. He was a unique talent.”

Actor Cillian Murphy – who starred in Peaky Blinders, in which Zephaniah also played a role – paid tribute to the “proud Brummie.”

“Benjamin was a truly gifted and beautiful human being – a generational poet, writer, musician and activist,” he said.

Singer Billy Bragg called him a “radical poet laureate.” “Rest in power, my friend,” he added.

The Black Writers Guild, of which Zephaniah was a founding member, said in a statement was “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,” the Guild added.

Comedian and writer Lenny Henry took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to mourn the passing of “his friend.” “His passion for poetry, his advocacy for education for all was tireless,” Henry wrote.

British artist Cold War Steve simply posted that he was “heartbroken.”

“We have lost a Titan today,” added the actor and writer Andoh Adjoa. “Advocate for love and humanity in all things. Heartbroken. Rest In Your Power – our brother.”

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