Benjamin Zephaniah, the iconic Black British poet, writer, campaigner and actor has died aged 65, his family announced today.
Zephaniah was born in Birmingham in 1958, the son of Caribbean parents of the Windrush generation. He was a prominent anti-racist and anti-imperialist, notably turning down royal honours, instead penning a piece in response titled: "Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought."
In his lifetime he published fourteen poetry collections, seven plays, five novels, five children's books as well as two further books and an autobiography.
His second novel Refugee Boy, was inspired by a young Tamil refugee he had befriended, who had fled to London after his parents were killed by the Sri Lankan Army.
In 2002, Zephaniah wrote:
I know what an asylum seeker is because many of them are my neighbours in my part of London. They are all very different, with very different stories to tell. They have in common great suffering. Like the boy from Sri Lanka I met who was having problems at school. He was a Tamil and his family became caught up in the civil war. Sri Lankan soldiers shot his mother in front of him. They then forced his father to committed a sexual act with the body, and then they shot his father. The boy ran away, and then met some Tamil Tiger guerrillas. They gave the boy a choice; join the guerrillas as a boy soldier or accept their help to go into exile. He became a refugee and I defy anyone to say there is anything bogus about his plight.
Zephaniah was also a successful musician, and actor, appearing most recently in the British period crime drama Peaky Blinders, famously set in Birmingham.