Black Stars: Benjamin Zephaniah

I mentioned before that there is a series of books about successful black people. It’s depressing that you need a special series, but it’s wonderful to find books which inspire black children. As Malorie Blackman said when we met, they need to know, because it’s not at all as obvious as it may seem to someone who is white.

Here Verna Wilkins tells the story of Benjamin Zephaniah, who had a sad and difficult start to life, but who is now a tremendous role model. He is really ‘very cool’, which is almost at odds with the fact that he is so gentle and down-to-earth.

You have to admire the man for what he is. And his poems are fabulous, and even a non-poetry person like me enjoys them. Best served read by Benjamin himself, but the poems in this Tamarind book will serve as a good starting point.

And then you can read his novels about black children and teenagers.

4 responses to “Black Stars: Benjamin Zephaniah

  1. I like an author called Deon Meyer, who is a South African, writing in Afrikaans. I never know when reading his books if a character is black or white, though obviously it is often relevant for the context and the undercurrents. It is fascinating, actually!

    James Patterson, whom I no longer read, was apparently under pressure from Hollywood to allow his protag Alex Cross to be made white for the movies. I respect Patterson for refusing to agree to that. Nowadays, he “writes” YA books (as well as everything else) but I don’t know if he raises this theme particularly.

    At my daughters’ school they have to read quite a bit of pro-other-countries/races/religion novels and non-fiction. I suppose other schools are the same these days. (not in my day, it was all very conventional then but in those days England was not as globalized as it is today).

  2. Benjamin Zephaniah is a lovely person. I used to see him when we lived in Stratford/East Ham and he worked locally. He was always warm and friendly to myself and my infant son, who used to call him ‘the lion man’ because of his dreads. Benjamin writes for Frances Lincoln (same as me) these days and I told him a couple of years back that he had inspired me to see myself as a writer way back in the 80s when I was a young mother living in mouldy ‘hard-to-let’ housing. He was very gracious despite my obvious fandom 🙂

  3. Lynn – I’m sure he didn’t see a fan when looking at you. Some people actually are modest enough not to go round ‘being stars’ even though they are.

    Maxine – I’m glad you feel the need to know skin colour when reading. It feels like a petty need sometimes, but I need to see my characters, and I need to see them as they are, with no intention of judging anyone.

    I will still make up my own mental image of someone, but I may need to know that I’m working with a character who has green skin, is two foot tall and weighs 300 kg. (I know I just mixed imperial with metric, which goes to show I have no fixed point of reference.)

    I asked Malorie Blackman this, because whereas it’s obvious that most of her main characters are likely to be black, in a school group of children, some are also quite likely to be white, or Asian, or even green. I just need to be told.

  4. I don’t think it is always necessary or relevant to “know” the skin colour, but it certainly is sometimes. Deon Meyer’s books are about the “new” South Africa, as blacks are given jobs previously held by whites, etc. Therefore it is often very relevant to know. I suspect that if one read the books in their original Afrikaans it would be a lot easier to tell than when you read them in translation, as I do.

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