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Benjamin Obadiah Iqbal Zephaniah (born 15 April 1958, Birminghammarker, England) is a British Jamaican Rastafarian writer and dub poet. He is a well-known figure in contemporary English literature, and was included in The Times list of Britain's top 50 post-war writers in 2008.

Zephaniah has said that his mission is to fight the dead image of poetry in academia, and to "take [it] everywhere" to people who do not read books.

Early life

Zephaniah was born and raised in Handsworthmarker district of Birmingham, which he called the "Jamaican capital of Europe", the son of a Barbados postman and a Jamaican nurse. A dyslexic, he attended an approved school but left aged 13 unable to read or write.

He writes that his poetry emerged from the rhythms for Jamaica and "street politics". His first performance was in church when he was ten, and by the age of fifteen, his poetry was already known among Handsworth's Afro-Caribbean and Asian communities. He received a criminal record with the police as a young man and served a prison sentence for burglary. Tired of preaching only to black people about their own lives, he decided to expand his audience, and headed to London at the age of twenty-two.


Rejection of OBE

In November 2003, Zephaniah wrote in The Guardian that he had turned down an OBE from the Queen because it reminded him of "how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised."

Charitable work

He is an honorary patron of The Vegan Society, Viva! (Vegetarians International Voice for Animals), the anti-racism Newham Monitoring Project, and Tower Hamlets Summer Universitymarker.

Animal rights

Zephaniah is an animal rights advocate, and in 2004 he wrote the foreword to Keith Mann's book From Dusk 'til Dawn: An insider's view of the growth of the Animal Liberation Movement, a book about the Animal Liberation Front. In August 2007, he announced that he would be launching the Animal Liberation Project, alongside People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.


Zephaniah has spoken in favour of a British Republic and the dis-establishment of the crown.

West Papua

Zephaniah is also firmly in opposition to the occupation of Western New Guineamarker by Indonesia.

Personal life and achievements

Zephaniah lived for many years in East London but since 2008 has divided his time between Beijing and a village near Spalding, Lincolnshiremarker. He is a self-described passionate vegan. He is also a fan of Birmingham's Aston Villa Football Club.He was married for twelve years to Amina, a theatre administrator, she left him in 2001.

He has been awarded honorary doctorates by the University of North Londonmarker (in 1998), the University of Central Englandmarker (in 1999), Staffordshire University (in 2002), London South Bank Universitymarker (in 2003), the University of Exetermarker and the University of Westminstermarker (in 2006). On 17 July 2008 Zephaniah received an honorary doctorate from the University of Birminghammarker. He was listed at 48 in The Times' list of 50 greatest postwar writers.

He was awarded Best Original Song in the Hancocks 2008, Talkawhile Awards for Folk Music (as voted by members of [46450]) for his version of Tam Lyn Retold recorded with The Imagined Village. He collected the Award live at The Cambridge Folk Festival on 2 August 2008 and described himself as a "Rasta Folkie". He became a vegan when he read poems about shimmering fish floating in an underwater paradise, and birds flying free in the clear blue sky.


Zephaniah published his first book of poems, Pen Rhythm, in 1980. Three editions were published. His album Rasta, which featured The Wailers' first recording since the death of Bob Marley as well as a tribute to Nelson Mandela, gained him international prestige and topped the Yugoslavian pop charts. It was because of this recording that he was introduced to the political prisoner and soon-to-be South African president, and in 1996, Mandela requested that Zephaniah host the president's Two Nations Concert at the Royal Albert Hallmarker, Londonmarker. Zephaniah was poet in residence at the chambers of Michael Mansfield QC, and sat in on the inquiry into Bloody Sunday and other cases, these experiences leading to his Too Black, Too Strong poetry collection.



  • Pen Rhythm (1980)
  • The Dread Affair: Collected Poems (1985) Arena
  • City Psalms (1992) Bloodaxe Books
  • Inna Liverpool (1992) AK Press
  • Talking Turkeys (1995) Puffin Books
  • Propa Propaganda (1996) Bloodaxe Books
  • Funky Chickens (1997) Puffin
  • School's Out: Poems Not for School (1997) AK Press
  • Funky Turkeys (Audiobook) (1999) AB
  • Wicked World! (2000) Puffin
  • Too Black, Too Strong (2001) Bloodaxe Books
  • The Little Book of Vegan Poems (2001) AK Press
  • Reggae Head (Audiobook) 57 Productions
  • Rong Radio Station
  • Dis poetry
. de generation rap


  • Face (1999) Bloomsbury (published in children's and adult editions)
  • Refugee Boy (2001) Bloomsbury
  • Gangsta Rap (2004) Bloomsbury
  • Teacher's Dead (2007) Bloomsbury

Children's books

  • We are Britain (2002) Frances Lincoln
  • Primary Rhyming Dictionary (2004) Chambers Harrap
  • J is for Jamaica (2006) Frances Lincoln


  • Listen to Your Parents (included in Theatre Centre: Plays for Young People - Celebrating 50 Years of Theatre Centre (2003) Aurora Metro, also published by Longman, 2007)
  • Face: The Play



  • Rasta (1982) Upright (reissued (1989) Workers Playtime (UK Indie #22)
  • Us An Dem (1990) Island
  • Back to Roots (1995) Acid Jazz
  • Belly of De Beast (1996) Ariwa
  • Naked (2005) One Little Indian
  • Naked & Mixed-Up (2006) One Little Indian (Benjamin Zephaniah Vs. Rodney-P)

Singles, EPs

  • Dub Ranting EP (1982) Radical Wallpaper
  • "Big Boys Don't Make Girls Cry" 12-inch single (1984) Upright
  • "Crisis" 12-inch single (1992) Workers Playtime
  • "Empire" (1995) Bomb the Bass with Benjamin Zephaniah & Sinead O'Connor


External links

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