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‘Like a letter from the Queen’: Poet remembers childhood letter from Zephaniah

Jess Green, an award-winning performance poet and script writer, wrote a letter to Benjamin Zephaniah when she was 11 years old (Jess Green/PA)
Jess Green, an award-winning performance poet and script writer, wrote a letter to Benjamin Zephaniah when she was 11 years old (Jess Green/PA)

A writer and performer who received a letter from Professor Benjamin Zephaniah when she was 11 years old has spoken of the impact it had as she pursued her career.

Jess Green, an award-winning performance poet and script writer for TV and theatre, wrote to Zephaniah in 2000 to tell him that she “loved him and loved his work” but did not expect to receive a response.

“It was like getting a letter from the Queen,” Ms Green, 34, from Liverpool, told the PA news agency.

“When you’re 11 years old, writers, at least to me, were like celebrities.”

Jess Green's letter from Benjamin Zephaniah
Jess Green received a letter from Benjamin Zephaniah in 2000 (Jess Green/PA)

Ms Green, who had “always wanted to be a writer since (she) was little”, said she wrote letters to several authors when she was young, such as Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo, but “people didn’t always reply”.

She said the “sweet” letter from Zephaniah printed on colourful paper was “really detailed and funny” and she noticed he responded to the things she put in her letter.

The letter from Zephaniah, dated December 5 2000, reads: “Thanks very much for your letter, it really sounds like you are a real fan, I knew I had one somewhere.

“Seriously, it is great to know that you are so in tune with my work because as you said, there are some that are funny and some that are very serious, and most of the time even the funny ones have a message to them.”

The letter went on: “You must have a cool family if they buy you Benjamin Zephaniah books, I hope one day my family will buy Jessica Green books.”

Ms Green said: “I am now a writer, I’ve published books, I write for TV and theatre and I’ve still got (the letter) in a frame above my desk, it’s really important to me.”

She added: “I think I just told (Zephaniah) that I loved him and I loved his work, and that I wanted to be a writer when I was older and I wanted to be like him.

“I had read all of his poetry books, and particularly Talking Turkeys, as a kid I just loved it.

“It was so different to the poetry we had to learn about in school and it was probably my introduction to performance poetry.”

Bob Marley English Heritage blue plague unveiling
Professor Benjamin Zephaniah died at the age of 65 (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Ms Green said she crossed paths with Zephaniah in 2015 when they were performing on the same stage at Latitude Festival.

“My first poetry collection had just come out so I was able to give him a copy of that,” she said.

“When you would see him on stage, you weren’t sure which bits were poetry and which bits were him just chatting to the audience and I love that.

“That’s always what I’ve thought about when I’m performing and when I’m touring.”

Ms Green’s third poetry collection, titled Dressed As Love, came out on Thursday, which she said was “bittersweet”.

Of Zephaniah’s passing, which was announced on Thursday by his family, she said: “It was such a shock.

“He’s so youthful and he’s got such a youthful presence, it was a real shock.”