Benjamin Zephaniah was one of the pioneers of the performance poetry scene in Britain.
He is also an actor and television presenter, and although he has turned down an OBE twice he holds 16 honorary doctorates, is a visiting professor at De Montfort University, and Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Brunel University.
Were you born in Birmingham? Yes
What’s your favourite childhood memory of Birmingham? Playing on ‘bomb sites’, making my own toys and exploring the streets on homemade Go Karts and bicycles. The streets were places we could play, and every now and then we would stop to let a car go past.
When was your breakthrough moment? I had been performing poetry in community centres around Aston, Moseley, Small Heath, and Handsworth, but it was when I was put of the then new Channel Four TV station that things really changed for me.
How did you get into what you’re doing today? When I was young I always listened to the poetry and music of Jamaica , so took in a lot of what I was hearing and did a British version of it. There were some people doing a similar thing, but they were still talking about Caribbean issues. I was speaking about the here and now and it really had an effect on the locals.
What’s the greatest memory from your career? I don’t think of what I do as a career. It’s my calling. I love it. I would do it for nothing. In reality it is my hobby and passion.
Favourite thing to do in Birmingham? Kissing in Aston Hall, and jogging around the canals.
What makes Birmingham stand out to you? The accent.
What are your thoughts on the future of Birmingham? Birmingham was right at the centre of the industrial revolution and it’s taking its time to find its place in the new world, but it will. I think it will be driven by the youth. They can lead the way in building a night time economy, a high tech economy, they can drive cultural activity in the city.
If you could change one thing about Birmingham, what would it be? I would find the money to clean up the canal routes and make them more attractive, and I’d open up more libraries.
Who’s the most famous person you think is from Birmingham? Matthew Boulton.
Who are your heroes? Someone you look up to? Noam Chomsky
If you had a dinner party, which 3 people would you invite? Noam Chomsky, Carl Chin, and Rusty Lee.
What are your plans for the future? I just want to keep doing what I do. Life has been good for me, but not for many others, so I want to help the others, and inspire people to help others and spread more love.
Who’s the most famous person in your phone book? I can’t say. They wouldn’t want me to. Respect.