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James Berry has died | 13-Jul-17

James Berry, the treasured Jamaican poet who brought Patois to British poetry, has died aged 92. 

Born in rural Jamaica in 1924, he began writing poems and stories at school. After working as a labourer in the US for six year, he eventually travelled to the UK in 1948. He moved to London, settling in Brixton. The racism he encountered there and the standards of living he experienced led him to write his first published poetry in magazines. An early member of the Caribbean Artists Movement, Berry's first poetry collection, Fractured Circles, appeared in 1979 published by New Beacon Books, the now legendary Afro-Caribbean publisher and bookseller.

In 1981 Berry won the National Poetry prize for Fantasy of an African Boy, now one of the most anthologised Caribbean poems. His poems nearly always captured the lilt and speech patterns of his native Jamaica; with this skill "Berry helped to enrich and diversify the English language. Conversational modes of West Indian expression, which a previous generation would have considered exotic or barely literate, became normal and easily understood. He gave literary respectability to forms of language increasingly heard in the streets and playgrounds of multicultural Britain."

Editor of two seminal anthologies, Bluefoot Traveller (1976) and News for Babylon (1984), Berry was always in the forefront of championing West Indian/British writing. Among his prizes was the Signal poetry award in 1989. In 1990 he was appointed OBE. It was typical that Berry should accept the award graciously in the interest of making the social and racial mix of modern society work harmoniously, rather than polarise.

To read more about James Berry's life, read his obituary on The Guardian

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