Birmingham's dreadlocked bard Benjamin Zephaniah is blessed with a verbal musicality inspired by his Caribbean heritage. His work addresses global issues such as racism, animal cruelty and the need for greater social justice, shot through with a rich humour, drawing on rap and dub rhythms, that make his poetry accessible to children and perennially popular in schools.
Born in Birmingham in 1958, Zephaniah divided his early years between the district of Handsworth and the tropics of Jamaica. He left school aged 13 unable to read or write, but within two years his lyrical commentaries won him a strong following and, in 1979, he moved to London. His first collection Pen Rhythm was published in 1980 by a small co-operative publisher. He attracted wider public interest through performances at political gatherings and his many television appearances throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Zephaniah has branched out in to other literary forms, including plays and novels such as Refugee Boy (2001). He was the first to perform with The Wailers following Bob Marley's death, and at Nelson Mandela's request, Zephaniah hosted the President's Two Nations concert at the Royal Albert Hall in July 1996.
In 2003 Zephaniah famously refused an OBE for his contribution to literature with the words "OBE me? Up yours", at the time telling to The Guardian that he feels "profoundly anti-empire".
Dis poetry is wid me when I gu to me bed
It gets into me dreadlocks
It lingers around me head
The Nation's Favourite Poet