Zephaniah, Benjamin 1958-

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Zephaniah, Benjamin 1958-
(Benjamin Obadiah Iqbal Zephaniah)


Born April 15, 1958, in Birmingham, England; son of Oswald (a post office manager) and Valerie (a nurse) Springer. Hobbies and other interests: Martial arts, numismatics.


Agent—c/o Author Mail, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 38 Soho Sq., London W1D 3HB, England.


Writer, poet. Africa Arts Collective, Liverpool, England, writer-in-residence, 1989; Memphis State University, Memphis, TN, writer-in-residence, 1991, 1995; Cambridge University, creative artist in residence. Appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education, 1998; affiliated with Irie Dance Company, Market Nursery Hackney, Black-liners (Black and Asian AIDS & HIV support network), Vegetarians International Voice for Animals (VIVA), Chinese Women's Refugee Group, Sport against Racism in Ireland (SARI), SHOP (self-help organization for ex-prisoners), Prison Phoenix Trust (promoting yoga and meditation in prisons), Music Works-Brixton, and Penrose Housing Association (housing for former prisoners). Actor in films, including Didn't You Kill My Brother (television), Channel 4, 1987, Farendg, 1989, and Dread Poets Society (television), BBC2, 1991; presenter for television and radio programs.


Vegan Society, Equity, Musicians Union, Writers Guild, Performing Rights Society, Author Licensing and Collection Society.


British Broadcasting Corporation Young Playwrights Festival award, 1988, for Hurricane Dub; ward in Ealing Hospital named in Zephaniah's honor, 1988; honorary doctorates from the University of North London, 1988, University of Central England, 1999, University of Staffordshire, 2002, London South Bank University, 2003, and University of Exeter, 2006; Race in the Media Radio Drama Award, Commission for Racial Equality, 2001, for Listen to Your Parents, 2001; Portsmouth Book Award, 2002, for Refugee Boy, p. 2002; Officer of the Order of the British Empire (refused), 2003.



Playing the Right Tune, produced at Theatre East, London, England, 1985.

Job Rocking, produced at Riverside Studios, 1987.

Hurricane Dub (radio play), British Broadcasting Corporation (London, England), 1988.

Streetwise, produced at Temba, 1990.

Delirium, produced at Union Dance Company, 1990.

Our Teacher's Gone Crazy (television play), British Broadcasting Corporation (London, England), 1990.

The Trial of Mickey Tekka, produced at the Hay-on-Wye Literature Festival, 1991.

Dread Poets Society (television play), British Broadcasting Corporation (London, England), 1991.

Listen to Your Parents (radio play), British Broadcasting Corporation (London, England), 2000.

Face (radio play; also see below), British Broadcasting Corporation (London, England), 2003.

Prostate, 2006.


Dub Ranting, The Cartel, 1982.

Rasta, The Cartel, 1983.

Big Boys Don't Make Girls Cry, The Cartel, 1984.

(With the Wailers) Free South Africa, The Cartel, 1986.

Us and Dem, Island/Mango, 1990.

Crisis, Workers Playtime, 1992.

Back to Roots, Acid Jazz, 1995.

Belly of de Beast, Ariwa Records, 1996.

(With Back to Base) Dancing Tribes (single), MP Records, 2000.

(With Swayzak) Illegal (single), The Medicine Label, 2000.

(With John Webster and Brindabrand) The Shelley Story, Pathfinder Audio, 2001.

Naked (poetry over music), One Little Indian Records, 2004.


Pen Rhythm (poems), Page One Books (London, England), 1980.

The Dread Affair (poems), Arena, 1985.

Inna Liverpool, Africa Arts Collective, 1988.

Rasta Time in Palestine, Shakti, 1990.

City Psalms (poems), Bloodaxe Books (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), 1992.

(Editor, with Marie Mulvey Roberts) Out of the Night: Writings from Death Row, New Clarion Press, 1994.

Talking Turkeys (children's poetry), Penguin, 1994.

Propa Propaganda (poems), Dufour Editions (Chester Springs, PA), 1996.

Funky Chickens (children's poetry), Penguin (New York, NY), 1996.

School's Out: Poems Not for School, AK Press (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1997.

(Editor) The Bloomsbury Book of Love Poems, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 1999.

Face (young adult novel), Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 1999.

Wicked World! (children's poetry), Penguin (New York, NY), 2000.

The Little Book of Vegan Poems: Explicit Vegan Lyrics, AK Press (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2000.

Refugee Boy (young adult novel), Bloomsbury (London, England), 2001.

Too Black, Too Strong (poems), Bloodaxe (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), 2001.

We Are Britain (poems), Francis Lincoln, 2002.

Gangsta Rap (young adult novel), Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2004.

Spoken-word cassettes include Radical Rapping, 1989, Overstanding, 1992, and Adult Fun for Kids, 1994, all Benjamin Zephaniah Associates; Reggae Head, 57 Productions, 1997, and Funky Turkeys (juvenile), Audio Book and Music Company, 1997. Contributor to books, including Chambers Primary Rhyming Dictionary, 2004; contributor of introductions to books by others and to numerous television and radio programs for the British Broadcasting Corporation, Menton Films, After Image, Thames TV, Tyne Tees, Yorkshire-TV, and World Service.


On his Web site, Benjamin Zephaniah has commented: "I have been called a dub poet, an oral poet, a performance poet, a pop poet, a pub poet, a rap poet, a Rasta poet, a reggae poet and even a black poet, the list goes on. In all honesty, none of those titles offend me, I am probably all of these persons but if I had to chose one I would start with oral poet." He favors oral poetry because of the immediacy of response it evokes in the listener.

Zephaniah was born in England and grew up there and in Jamaica. He began his writing career after moving to London in 1979, with his first poetry collection, Pen Rhythm. Zephaniah has written a number of books of poetry; stage, television, and radio plays; and fiction and poetry for children and young adults. Many of his works have received awards, including an honor from the Commission for Racial Equality for his radio play Listen to Your Parents. He can be heard on music and spoken-word recordings, and he has hosted and contributed to books by others and to British programming. The Wailers joined him on his album Rasta, which was the group's first recording after the death of Bob Marley. The album was also a tribute to Nelson Mandela, who then asked Zephaniah to host the Two Nations Concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London. In 2003 Zephaniah refused the honor of becoming an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, which was to have been conferred upon him by Queen Elizabeth II, because the title reminded him of the history of brutality inflicted on his ancestors by imperialist powers.

Zephaniah's writing often reflects his feelings about racial discrimination, especially as experienced by boys. Among his young adult novels is Face, the story of fifteen-year-old Martin Turner, a popular boy who, along with his friend, Mark, takes a ride with Apache and Pete, who are transporting drugs. A high-speed chase ends in a crash, the result of which leaves Martin's face burned and disfigured. Formerly admired for his looks, Martin now learns that physical appearance is not the standard by which a person should be judged.

Alem Kelo, the protagonist of Refugee Boy, is Eritrean and Ethiopian. Because the two countries are at war, his parents can find no safety in either land. Alem's father takes him to England, where he gives a note of explanation to the manager of the hotel where they are staying. He wants his teenage son to stay until circumstances change for the better. Alem is placed with the Fitzgeralds, a family of Irish refugees, who become his open-minded and caring foster family.

Alem faces discrimination in London, but makes friends with Robert and Buck. He applies for legal asylum, but when he is reunited with his father following his mother's murder, both are ordered to return. Alem is eventually granted asylum, but only after his father is killed while in London. Heather M. Hoyt wrote in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy: "This novel effectively illustrates how children are affected by adult decisions about war and politics."

Gangsta Rap is set in London, where fifteen-year-old Ray lives with his West Indian parents and sister. He and his two friends, Tyrone and Prem, are dropouts who hang out at a small music store owned by Marga Man, a Jamaican who helps them get their start in the music business, but their success leads to a brutal fight with a competing group. Reviewing the novel for Black Issues Book Review, Desiree Harrison described it as "a great tale of individuality and passion."

Zephaniah once told CA: "My mission: to popularize poetry—many working-class people in Britain and worldwide believe that poetry is an art of the middle class. To redress this, I make a great effort to perform anywhere on the planet, always try to keep my publications to a low purchase price and write around issues that concern working-class people. Very concerned about the idea of a New World Order. Who ordered it?"



Wilkins, Verna, Benjamin Zephaniah, illustrated by Gillian Hunt, Tamarind (Camberley, England), 1999.


Black Issues Book Review, November-December, 2004, Desiree Harrison, review of Gangsta Rap, p. 75.

Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, September, 2004, Heather M. Hoyt, review of Refugee Boy, p. 76.


Benjamin Zephaniah Web site,http://www.benjaminzephaniah.com (May 27, 2006).

ChildLine,http:// www.childline.org.uk/ (May 27, 2006), interview.