The autobiography of poet, musician and activist Benjamin Zephaniah is a brilliant read, written in a straightforward style with short chapters to keep you turning the pages. The book is roughly chronological, focusing on the significant events in his life.
What I really like is the honesty and self-belief which are evident in Benjamin Zephaniah’s words. He reflects on his successes, his anger, his failures. In his younger days, he led a life of crime and rather than being apologetic for this, shows a balanced view in the context of institutional racism and urban poverty. We follow his journey from gangster to renowned dub poet, to political activist and influencer, to published author and organic vegetable grower. The book ends with him dividing his time between China (where he visits the martial arts masters) and a Lincolnshire village, while contemplating Brexit and the then-current Prime Minister Theresa May.
Zephaniah’s book really demonstrates how much he’s achieved and how inspirational he is. Highlights of the book include his meeting with Nelson Mandela (who read Zephaniah’s poetry while in prison), his rejection of the OBE and the publication of his YA novels. It was also interesting to learn about his influences and friends. While there are some humorous moments in his autobiography, the majority of the content is serious and includes many examples of racism from the establishment, particularly his encounters with the police. He weaves the issues he’s passionate about into the narrative. You’re most likely to enjoy reading the book if you already know some of his work and if you share some of his beliefs but it’s an engaging read all the same.
First published in 2018.