Over the years the work of dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson has provided a searing social commentary on the experience of black British life

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Considered to be the father of ‘dub poetry’, Linton Kwesi Johnson is the only black poet to have his work published in the prestigious, Penguin Modern Classics series following a career that began with his involvement in the radical politics of the 1970s.

Over the years, his politically-charged poetry has provided a vital social commentary on the experience of second generation black British youngsters who grew up in the UK but were made to feel like outsiders. Some of his most famous poems were written during the Margaret Thatcher era of the 1980s when police brutality led to uprisings all over the country.

Linton was born in Jamaica in 1952 and came to the UK to join his mother when he was 11. He studied sociology at Goldsmiths College and graduated in 1973. During his student days, he joined the Black Panthers and the Brixton-based, Race Today Collective, whose members included Darcus Howe. He also became involved in the Caribbean Artists Movement, which was set up in 1967 by writer and activist John La Rose and others to promote black culture in the UK.

Race Today, went on to publish his first book of poems, Voices of the Living and the Dead in 1974. His second book, Dread Beat and Blood (1975), published by Bogle-L’Ouverture, included poems written in Jamaican patois, and was released as a record in 1978.

In 1980, Race Today published his third book, Inglan Is A Bitch. A collection of his poems, Mi Revalueshanary Fren was published by Penguin Modern Classics in 2002.

Mostly in collaboration with reggae producer and musician Dennis Bovell, he has recorded several albums including Forces of Victory (1979), Bass Culture (1980), LKJ In Dub (1980) and Making History (1984). He founded his own record label LKJ in the mid-1980s, selling more than two million records worldwide. Linton himself coined the phrase ‘dub poetry’ to describe the way DJs blended music and verse. However, for him the poetry always comes first.

He has received many awards, including the Cecil Day Lewis Fellowship, the Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica, and the Golden PEN award for his distinguished services to literature. In 2018, Linton headlined the South Bank Centre’s BOLD Festival, celebrating age and creativity.

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