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Benjamin Zephaniah takes British Academy title

Brunel University Creative Writing Prof Benjamin Zephaniahb

Dub poet, children’s poet, writer, musician and self-styled professional naughty boy, Benjamin Zephaniah can now add British Academy Honorary Fellow to his job description.

He confirmed yesterday he accepts the role after famously spurning an OBE in 2003 because of its ties to slavery and in protest against the Iraq war.

The poet publicly turned down an Order of the British Empire for literature from The Queen and then Prime Minister Tony Blair in the New Year’s Honours.

Today the British Academy announced the Brunel Creative Writing Professor is one of 85 newly elected Honorary Fellows, picked for his pioneering performance poetry.

“To be honest, I didn’t know much about them,” he said last night. “And I’m not very good with big institutions. But some artists who I really respect, they said it’s a good idea. So yes, I accept. It’s something I think is quite progressive. And if it helps artists communicate and share ideas, that’s positive.”

Founded in 1902, the British Academy is a group of more than 1,600 leading thinkers in these subjects from the UK and overseas. Current Fellows include classicist and TV presenter Professor Dame Mary Beard and the historian Professor Sir Simon Schama. Sir Winston Churchill, Irish poet, Seamus Heaney and social reformer Beatrice Webb. The Academy is also a funding body for research, nationally and internationally, and a forum for debate and engagement.  

 Welcoming the Academy’s fresh Fellows, its President Julia Black, said:  "There is still much to do to make the research world diverse and open to all. With our new Fellows’ expertise and insights, the Academy is better placed than ever to open new seams of knowledge and understanding and to enhance the wellbeing and prosperity of societies around the world. I congratulate each of our new Fellows on their achievement and look forward to working with them.”