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Pioneering British writer and poet Benjamin Zephaniah has died aged 65

Zephaniah had recently been diagnosed with a brain tumour, his family confirmed.

By Nick Reilly

Benjamin Zephaniah (Photo by Tom Jenkins/Getty Images)

The celebrated and hugely influential British writer and poet Benjamin Zephaniah has died aged 65, after he was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

In a statement released this morning, Zephaniah’s family said: “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 (7 December).

“Benjamin was diagnosed with a brain tumour eight weeks ago. 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,” the statement added. “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, radio, Benjamin leaves us with a joyful and fantastic legacy.”

Born in 1958, Zephaniah became one of the UK’s most celebrated literary voices and was credited with the emergency of “dub poetry”, which saw performers delivering their own words over the beats of reggae music.

His work often tackled racism, social injustice and his own experiences being a child of the Windrush Generation – born to a Barbadian postman father and a Jamaican nurse mother.

In turn, he rejected the offer of an OBE in 2003 – explaining that the honour reflected a history of colonialism.

“Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought. I get angry when I hear that word “empire”; it reminds me of slavery, it reminds of thousands of years of brutality, it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised,” he said in 2003.

He was also a renowned ambassador for sufferers of Dyslexia, having suffered from the condition since childhood and left school at the age of 13 unable to read or write.

To a wider audience, Zephaniah was also known for his role in Peaky Blinders – playing the street preacher Jeremiah Jesus who frequently appeared as an ally to the Shelby family in the BBC crime series.

Paying tribute, former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen said: “The tragic terrible news has come to me that Benjamin Zephaniah’s family have announced that Benjamin has died. I’m devastated. I admired him, respected him, learnt from him, loved him. Love and condolences to the family and to all who loved him too.”

Clive Nwonka, the Associate Professor of Film, Culture and Society at University College London, added: “Devastated to hear of the passing of Benjamin Zephaniah. The sense of recognition and pride I felt as a young Black person when Benjamin joined my department during my PhD studies was immense. Rest in power and peace.”