News

'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.”

Support our vendors this winter and beyond

If you can't visit your local vendor on a regular basis, then the next best way to support them is with a subscription to the Big Issue. As a social enterprise, we invest every penny we make back into the organisation. That means that with every subscription, we are supporting people in poverty to get back on their own two feet.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
'Care sector is on its knees': How Tory crackdown on overseas care workers will fuel exploitation
Immigration

'Care sector is on its knees': How Tory crackdown on overseas care workers will fuel exploitation

More than half of people on universal credit going without food because they can't afford it
Trussell Trust food banks
Food banks

More than half of people on universal credit going without food because they can't afford it

DWP benefit dates for March 2024 and other help as cost of living payments end
benefits/ money
Benefits

DWP benefit dates for March 2024 and other help as cost of living payments end

'An amazing U-turn': Home Office drops bid to allow asylum seekers to live in unsafe housing
Asylum seekers risked being left
Immigration

'An amazing U-turn': Home Office drops bid to allow asylum seekers to live in unsafe housing

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Here's when UK households to start receiving last cost of living payments
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Here's when UK households to start receiving last cost of living payments

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know