Poet and musician Benjamin Zephaniah was awarded the Hay Festival Medal for Poetry today (Wednesday 2 June) at Hay Festival 2021. Awarded annually since Britain’s Olympic year in 2012, Hay Festival Medals draw inspiration from the original Olympic medal given for poetry. With Athena as muse, silversmith Christopher Hamilton crafts them locally.
Zephaniah is the second recipient of a Hay Festival Medal for 2021, with journalist George Monbiot receiving the Medal for Journalism, and other names still to be announced.
At this year’s Hay Festival, Zephaniah will present Windrush Child, a novel for children reflecting on the experiences of the Windrush Generation in the UK.
Zephaniah is a Birmingham-born writer and Dub poet whose work often contains the language and rhythms of his Jamaican heritage. He is a prolific and highly successful performance poet, whose work frequently touches on themes of political injustice. His first collection of verse for children, Talking Turkeys, came out in 1995 and went into emergency reprint due to its unexpected success, while his debut Young Adult novel Face was published to critical acclaim four years later. He has since written several more children’s and YA books, including Windrush Child in 2020.
A committed Rastafarian, vegan and political activist, Zephanish has also written plays, acted in film and television productions including Peaky Blinders and The Crown, and recorded numerous reggae records.
Zephaniah said: “I’ve lost count of how many years I’ve been going to Hay Festival as a poet, novelist, musician, as an audience member, and now digitally. So, when I say that receiving the Hay Festival Medal for Poetry is a great moment for me, you must understand, I really mean it. I love the Festival, I love the people who work on the Festival, and I love the town. For me, this medal is all about love. Thank you.”
Hay Festival education manager Aine Venables said: "It's a privilege to celebrate Benjamin Zephaniah at this year's event with the Hay Festival Medal for Poetry. Since his first book in 1980, Zephaniah's work has been enjoyed by generation after generation of readers and progressed important conversations in the UK and around the world. Over the years, we've seen first-hand how his writing connects with young audiences in particular, offering hope and inspiration to many."
Hay Festival 2021 started on Wednesday 26 May, bringing writers and readers together for an inspiring array of conversations, debates, workshops, and performances online. Over the past 12 days, more than 300 acclaimed writers, global policy makers, historians, poets, pioneers, and innovators have taken part, launching the best new fiction and non-fiction and interrogating some of the biggest issues of our time, from building a better world post-pandemic to tackling the compound crises of climate change, inequality, and challenges to truth and democracy.
Find out more about the Hay Festival medals here and explore the full Hay Festival 2021 programme here.