Benjamin Zephaniah, poet and writer, dies aged 65

His family announced the news on social media
His family announced the news on social media - Peter Dazeley

Benjamin Zephaniah, the poet described as the “People’s Laureate”, has died at the age of 65 eight weeks after being diagnosed with a brain tumour.

His family announced the news on social media, writing: “It is with great sadness and regret that we announce the death of our beloved Husband, Son and Brother in the early hours of this morning, Dec 7 2023.

“Benjamin’s wife was by his side throughout and was with him when he passed. 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.

“Thank you for the love you have shown, Professor Benjamin Zephaniah.”

Benjamin Zephaniah
Benjamin Zephaniah, who has died at the age of 65 - Roberto Ricciuti

The Birmingham-born poet appeared frequently on television, winning a Bafta in 2021 for Sky Arts’ Life & Rhymes show and playing the street preacher Jeremiah Jesus in Peaky Blinders.

The Black Writers’ Guild, of which Zephaniah was a founding member, said it was “mourning at the loss of a deeply valued friend and a titan of British literature”.

Zephaniah left school at the age of 13 and was unable to read or write because of dyslexia. He later went to London where his first book, Pen Rhythm, was published by Page One Book.

His first writings used dub poetry, a Jamaican style of work that evolved into the music genre of the same name, and he would also perform with the group The Benjamin Zephaniah Band.

Zephaniah often spoke out about racial abuse and education. He rejected an OBE in 2003, saying the honour was associated with the British Empire and its history of slavery.

He was was nominated for Autobiography of the Year at the National Book Awards for his work, The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah, and the book was also shortlisted for the Costa Book Award in 2018.