I first saw Gboyega Odubanjo read as part of open mic at Café Writers in Norwich in 2017 when he was one of a group of students on UEA’s MA poetry course who had come to support Anna Cathenka, that year’s Ink Sweat & Tears Scholar.

I don’t remember the poem he read; I do remember the effect it had. A year later Gboyega submitted to Ink Sweat & Tears and editor Helen Ivory chose his poem ‘Obit. (after César Vallejo)’ to feature on the site. IS&T was, probably, the first place where ‘Obit.’ was published. We wanted to submit it for 2019’s Forward Prize for Best Single Poem, but it was already part of Gboyega’s pamphlet While I Yet Live.

‘Obit.’ Is one of the poems that people have been posting again and again on X and Instagram over this last week. It hurts to re-read it now.

Because of the UEA connection, I watched Gboyega’s continuing success on the London poetry scene with interest. When Ruth Harrison of Spread the Word suggested him as one of the poets for the Runaways London anthology – that IS&T Press was putting together with STW and the University of Glasgow’s ‘Runaway Slaves in Great Britain’ project – it felt absolutely right. Runaways was all about the response of Black and South Asian writers and artists to advertisements in 17th and 18th century London newspapers for enslaved people who escaped. Gboyega, in our first group meeting on Zoom, asked pointedly if they were meant to write [or illustrate] what we – a largely White group of project managers/publishers/academics – wanted to hear or see. We said absolutely not, and kept to that.

Fahad Al-Amoudi, then on the IS&T internship programme, was the editor of Runaways London and worked closely with Gboyega. There was a particular poem that Fahad was not sure about; he asked Gboyega for a rewrite and then was equally unsure about the second iteration. My over-cautious idea was to publish both poems (as I and II versions), but Fahad went back to Gboyega one more time and he was right to do so. The third variation kicked it out of the park.

In Gboyega’s introduction to his section in Runaways London he knowledges this help. While he could be a firm critic with the work of others, Gboyega could also take it when it came to his own.

There is a degree of risk in trying to problematise already problematic language and I am grateful to Fahad Al-Amoudi for challenging me to think more deeply about the ways in which I was trying to parody the resource texts.

Gboyega used that same generosity of spirit balanced by firmness when working as editor on Uprising & Resistance – another STW /IS&T project with, this time with Black Beyond Data and Johns Hopkins University. This involved young Black writers and artists responding to evidence of insurrection on the ships of the trade in enslaved people, found in the archives of the Lloyds of London insurance market. The result was a hard hitting work of brilliant poems and images that is even now reaching into the upper echelons of Lloyd’s. The last time I saw Gboyega was at the launch of this in June.

I know Gboyega was close to both of the groups that he worked with on these anthologies. Many of them became close friends, if they weren’t already, and it is heartbreaking to think of the anguish and anger that they, others and Gboyega’s family are going through. I am feeling it myself. Everyone in the poetry world is.

And my main memory, after his poetry brilliance, his uncompromising spirit and the joy at seeing him at live events: In almost every email, Zoom conversation etc, that wonderful word ‘decent’. He made it his own.

Gboyega Odubanjo – always and forever decent.

Kate Birch


Gboyega Odubanjo

We featured it again in 2022 as part of the Repeat Beat Poet’s take on those 70th anniversary festivities in his Jubilee Suite.

Alison Graham reviews ‘While I Yet Live’ by Gboyega Odubanjo


Gboyega was a featured poet in the Runaways London project and also took part in the film connected to it. (Look for him around the 5 minutes mark and elsewhere.)

His poems for this project included the following can be found in the STW flip book here:



The poets and artists from Runaways London: October 2021.

Gretel Ensignia ©
Left to right (outer): Gboyega, poets Momtaza Mehri & Oluwaseun Olayiwola, Fahad, artists Tasia Graham & Olivia Twist. (inner): poets Memoona Zahid & Kobi.


Gboyega at the 29th June (2023) launch of Uprising & Resistance.
(Photos courtesy of Kashif Haque for Spread the Word)

Left to right: (Gboyega, poets Keith Jarrett, Courtney Conrad, malakaï sargeant, artists Jess Nash & Levi Naidu-Mitchell)


Spread the Word Tribute to Gboyega which touches on his other projects.

You can donate to the family GoFundMe for the Gboyega Odubanjo Foundation here.