Books · Displays · Events

Benjamin Zephaniah, Black History and Dyslexia

The Start-Up Lounge is hosting an exhibition by Norfolk artist Danny Keen to celebrate Black History Month- you can find details, plus a full program of events here.

It’s also Dyslexia Awareness Week, so we’re shining a spotlight on “Britain’s most filmed, photographed, and identifiable poet”, Benjamin Zephaniah.

benjaminI used to think nurses

Were women,

I used to think police

Were men,

I used to think poets

Were boring,

Until I became one of them.

Who’s Who by Benjamin Zephaniah

Zephaniah first found fame within the Black community and brought Dub (Reggae) poetry to the mainstream in the ‘80’s, at age 22. As Zephaniah found writing difficult, he performed his poetry out loud in the ‘oral tradition’, a style somewhat forgotten in England where history is passed down by bards and storytellers. Like punk icon John Cooper Clarke, he performed at demonstrations, speaking out against homelessness, fascism and institutional racism. This all helped break down the stereotype of the poet as an isolated romantic! His ability to connect with the British public earned him 3rd place in a BBC poll to find the nation’s favourite poet- the only living poet on the list, he is nevertheless in good company, with Wilfred Owen, who wrote about the horrific loss of life in the First World War, and William Blake, who campaigned against industrialisation and child labour in Victorian Britain. Zephaniah is a patron of over 25 charities which carry out peaceful campaigns against injustice. Within the UK, Newham Monitoring Project and INQUEST are fighting against racism and brutality, and global charities like the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and Palestine Campaign seek to end conflict between countries (Library Assistant Victoria worked alongside the CSC in Cuba last semester) He also supports literary charities: Haven Distribution provides books for prisons and Book-Cycle sends books all over the world.

Zephaniah’s Dub style hasn’t been a barrier to traditional success- he has 16 honorary doctorates and refused Tony Blair’s nomination for an OBE. The poem Bought and Sold and this article for the Guardian explain why.

Dyslexia couldn’t stifle Zephaniah’s creativity- you can read his open letter to young dyslexic people here. You can read about his first book tour on his blog Zephaniah Speaks


Benjamin Zephaniah with librarians in Thailand

Want to read something by Benjamin Zephaniah?

Wicked World (QUICK READS POETRY 823.91 ZEP) is a verbal trip around the world. You can see photos of Zephaniah’s travels on his website– he has performed on every continent and now resides in China. The British comes in the form of a recipe while poems like We Refugees give voices to the victims of war and famine.

Leave the ingredients to simmer.

As they mix and blend allow their languages to flourish

Binding them together with English.

Allow time to be cool.

Add some unity, understanding, and respect for the future,

Serve with justice

And enjoy.

From The British by Benjamin Zephaniah

Kung Fu Trip (QUICK READS 823.91 ZEP) is the story of Zephaniah’s first journey through China. During the War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan there were more racist attacks on Black people and Zephaniah was repeatedly stopped by police, despite looking nothing like a Muslim! Despite the lack of Vegan restaurants and some strange reactions from the locals (one man can’t believe he’s not the late Bob Marley) he makes it to a Shaolin temple where he fulfils his life-long dream of learning Kung Fu. This novel is short and easy to read but filled with both humour and philosophy- while Zephaniah is desperate to become more ‘zen’, the people in China are trying to be more Western.

Are you dyslexic? Do you want to know more about dyslexia?

The theme for Dyslexia Awareness Week is “Making sense of dyslexia”- you can find information on the campaign on display in the Information Store. That’s the way I think: dyslexia and dyspraxia explained (BOOK ZONE 371.9144 GRA) uses real life examples to help friends, families and teachers understand the lives of people with dyslexia. Dyslexia at college (BOOK ZONE 371.9144 GIL) is aimed at college students and contains information on how to revise and get organised, apply for university and get help in the workplace. It was written with the help of six students from the University of Bangor, all of whom are diagnosed with dyslexia.

Barrington Stoke publish books that are designed to be dyslexia-friendly. Their blog tracks portrayals of dyslexia in the media- one great post discusses books we fear we should be reading, what we are actually reading, and how this relates to dyslexia. You can find books published by Barrington Stoke in our QUICK READS section, labelled with an “S”.


Morris, D Benjamin Zephaniah accessed at on 05/10/15

Zephaniah, B Libraries are full of great people in Thailand accessed at on 05/10/15


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