On 6th December 2023, Benjamin Zephaniah, the British vegan poet whose work often addressed political injustice, and one of the honorary patrons of the Vegan Society, Viva! and other vegan organisations, died aged 65 from a brain tumour diagnosed eight weeks ago. Zephaniah became a vegetarian at age 11, and then became a vegan at the age of 13 when he read poems about “shimmering fish floating in an underwater paradise, and birds flying free in the clear blue sky”.
An Instagram post announcing his death created by his family reads, “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. 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 and radio, Benjamin leaves us with a joyful and fantastic legacy.”
Zephaniah was raised in Handsworth, Birmingham, the son of a Barbadian postman and a Jamaican nurse. He was dyslexic and left school aged 13, unable to read or write, but later became an award-winning poet, after moving to London and published his first book, Pen Rhythm, at age 22. He also wrote five novels.
Often speaking out about social justice issues, in 2003 he famously publicly rejected an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) due to the association of such an honour with the British Empire and its history of slavery. In 2012, Zephaniah worked with the anti-racism organisation Newham Monitoring Project. In 2005, he joined Amnesty International in speaking out against homophobia in Jamaica.
In February 2001, Zephaniah published The Little Book of Vegan Poems. He recently appeared in the documentary celebrating the 10th anniversary of Veganuary, and he was set to participate in the Vegan Campout 2024.