James Berry 1924-2017

James Berry. (photo © Sal Idriss)

It’s with great sadness that we report the death, in London, of  James Berry OBE, aged 93. Born in Jamaica in 1924, James was one of the first winners of the National Poetry Competition, winning with the poem ‘Fantasy of an African Boy’, in 1981. He had been suffering with Alzheimer’s Disease for some years, and died in his nursing home on Tuesday 20 June.

“James Berry was a pioneering writer, educator, editor and activist – a wonderful poet whose writing for both adults and children was characterised by compassion, humour and an acute eye for the political and social factors that shaped his life, and the lives of others. At 93, he was one of the last surviving literary voices of the early Windrush Generation.” – Hannah Lowe

James produced seven collections of poetry, including Fractured Circles (1979) and Lucy’s Letters and Loving (1982) from New Beacon Books, Chain of Days (Oxford University Press, 1985), and Hot Earth Cold Earth (1995), Windrush Songs (2007) and A Story I Am In: Selected Poems (2011) from Bloodaxe; and two important anthologies of Caribbean poetry, Bluefoot Traveller (1976) and News for Babylon (Chatto,1984). He also published several books of poetry and short stories for children (from Hamish Hamilton, Macmillan, Puffin and Walker Books), and won many literary prizes, including the Smarties Prize (1987), the Signal Poetry Award (1989) and a Cholmondeley Award (1991). He was awarded the OBE in 1990.

Director of The Poetry Society, Judith Palmer said:

“British poetry has so much to thank James Berry for. He helped throw wide the doors and make poetry a more open and welcoming place.”