Dr. Benjamin Zephaniah was born in Birmingham, but spent his early years in Jamaica, where he absorbed much of the music and poetry that influences his work. Benjamin had a difficult school life, and at 14 was sent to a borstal, and spent two years in prison. It was there that he decided, ‘I’m going to use this energy differently. I’ve got the talent to be a poet. I wanted to educate myself, be a bit more spiritual, a bit more political’.
He published his first poetry collection, Pen Rhythm, in 1980, and through the dancehall and sound system scene he became involved in performance poetry. His second collection of poetry, The Dread Affair: Collected Poems (1985) contained a number of poems attacking the British legal systemRasta Time in Palestine (1990) is an account of a visit to the Palestinian occupied territories. In 1989 he was nominated for Oxford Professor of Poetry, narrowly beaten by Seamus Heaney
His other poetry collections include two books written for children: Talking Turkey (1994) and Funky Chickens (1996). He has also written two novels for teenagers, Face (1999), which was short-listed for the Children’s Book Award in 2000, and Refugee Boy (2001).
He has been Writer in Residence at the Africa Arts Collective in Liverpool and Creative Artist in Residence at Cambridge University. He holds honorary doctorates from the University of North London (1998), the University of Central England (1999), and the University of Staffordshire (2002). In 1998, he was appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education to advise on the place of music and art in the National Curriculum. His most recent book is We Are Britain! (2002), a collection of poems celebrating cultural diversity in Britain.