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I’ve Cried A Lot Lately II (An Ode To Benjamin Zephaniah)

2023 has been a year of some incredible highs…and also tumultuous tribulation. 


On August 19th my Nan sadly passed away. Yes she was 92, you’d probably agree when I say ‘she had a good run’ too. Nevertheless, she was my favourite human being on the planet and I still can’t quite fathom never being able to see her in her physical form during this lifetime EVER again. 

  I also came to the end of the road in two long-time friendships, 20 years strong and out of the blue they fell apart. If you’ve ever broken up with a friend, you’ll know that the loss feels just as great as breaking up with a significant other or even worse, like someone has died. So when I heard the news of Benjamin Zephaniah’s passing on Thursday 7 December, my heart felt like it was on its final straw of grief for 2023. Death of a black icon is always a devastating loss, but for the British Caribbean / African community, this one’s PERSONAL.

  Unless you were living under a rock, almost every black British household growing up in the 90’s and early noughties had reverence for the work and contributions of Benjamin Zephaniah. Most famously, he was popular in our Johnson household for his literature work. In my collection I had ‘Funky Chickens’ along with Malorie Blackman’s ‘Pig Heart Boy’, ‘Noughts and Crosses’ and Sharon G Flake’s ‘The Skin I’m In’. This introduction to black writers sparked an unwavering ambition in me that one day, I too would publish a book and people would read and enjoy my storytelling the same way I got lost in their alternative realities, relatable themes and poetical compositions. 

   From the age of 4 I loved making up stories, by age 11 I realised that I was pretty good at it, by age 15 I decided to write my first book, by age 16 it was published… So who better to tell the good news to than one of my childhood inspirations - Benjamin Zephaniah?

   My Mom encouraged me to write him a letter, she was adamant he’d reply. Admittedly I thought she was over zealous, after all Mr Zephaniah was a very busy man and I was an unknown 16-year-old child from Great Barr, Birmingham… but she was right! Sometime in 2011, he replied [see below]... and in his own words, ‘I have heard about you and I did read about you in The Voice.’ 



Fast forward to 2012 I ended up interviewing Mr Z while working as an Editorial Assistant for Scene Birmingham magazine. Eventually in 2019 I got the chance to meet him in person for the first time during a talk he did at BBC Birmingham for diversity week. He spoke so candidly, holding nothing back when he answered each question thrown his way and unapologetically speaking the truth that shall set you free!  At the time I was 26 and a TV Researcher at BBC Three. I skipped my lunch break to make sure I could meet him. He was flattered as I reminded him of our letter exchanges, which at the time was almost a decade ago. 



After our in person encounter, I decided to write to him again, only this time it was to ask him what he thought of my book? In 2019 I re-launched a second edition of Snow Black the Seven Rastas and Other Short Stories and two of my favourite writers as well as some of the most respected British writers - Uncle Benjamin Zephaniah and Aunty Dorothy Koomson thought what I had to say was DECENT.


'I have read this book many times, and every time I read it I find more and more layers of meaning. This book is truly empowering. There is nothing like it.' Benjamin Zephaniah


’This is a seriously impressive collection of clever, different stories penned by a writer with a brilliant imagination.’ Dorothy Koomson

To receive a review from Mr Z is one of the highest accolades I could ever receive as a next gen British Caribbean writer. Words cannot describe what this did for my confidence. After facing several rejections from mainstream publishers, dismissed by media outlets who said ‘we’ve done enough on diversity in children’s books’... here was Benjamin Zephaniah reading, analysing and praising my literary work. We continued our email exchanges, I even invited him to my virtual book launch. He couldn’t make it at the time due to filming but requested the recording, which after watching he emailed me to say ‘I really loved it. Actually I was quite moved by it.’ He also went onto talk about it in a radio interview as well as mention it in a piece he wrote for his website - I’ve Cried A Lot Lately.




From then on, I honestly didn’t care what mainstream publishers thought’... a stamp of approval from THE Benjamin Zephaniah meant SO MUCH MORE.

  I’m incredibly humbled to have met such a trailblazer and multi-talented British household name. Mr Z your legacy will surely outlive you, the selflessness you took to give me the time of day will never be forgotten, our shared interest of Japanese culture will always make me smile and our commonality of being neurodivergent will remind me that we were born to see the world more creatively.


Thank you and rest well.


Tee Cee



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