Fundraiser tops £70,000 after body found in search for missing poet

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Family and friends of poet Gboyega Odubanjo have raised more than £72,000 after setting up a fundraiser to honour his name. The fund was established after news that a body had been found, five days after the award-winning poet was reported missing. 

Gboyega Odubanjo was last seen at the Shambala festival in Northamptonshire in the early hours of last Saturday. The 27-year-old, a British-Nigerian poet born and raised in east London, had been due to perform at the event in Kelmarsh on Sunday, but did not turn up for his set. Northamptonshire police said his family had been informed.

The body was discovered during a search of an area in Kelmarsh just before 9am. Police have said they are purusing multiple lines of inquiry, although the death is not being treated as suspicious.

The fundraiser aims to help low-income Black writers. Gboyega's pamphlet, Aunty Uncle Poems, was a winner of the Poetry Business New Poets prize in 2020. He had also gained an Eric Gregory award from the Society of Authors and a Michael Marks pamphlet award. He graduated from the MA in creative writing (poetry) at UEA in 2018. His debut collection While I Yet Live was published by Bad Betty Press in 2019 and shortlisted for the 2020 OutSpoken Prize for Poetry. He had been studying for a PhD in creative writing at the University of Hertfordshire. He was an editor at Bad Betty Press and the poetry magazine Bath Magg, and his poem ‘Oil Music’ was featured as a Guardian poem of the week in 2021.

His forthcoming collection, Adam, is said to explore inequality when it comes to searching for missing Black people in the UK, and is due to be publshed by Faber in 2024. It is understood to have been inspired by the unsolved murder of “Adam”, an unidentified boy whose body was discovered in the river Thames in central London in 2001. 

Poet Lisa Kelly said on Facebook: “This is the news nobody wanted. Gboyega has passed. An absolute tragedy. So many people heartbroken. My thoughts are with his family, friends and the poetry community.

“As a friend and Magma board member, he was a beautiful person with a heart of gold and the most engaging laugh and great sense of humour. An absolute joy to work with, you could trust his judgement implicitly. I reached out to him to co-edit the Act Your Age issue of Magma as a younger poet and he agreed to join the board and he was wonderful.

“His ability with people, calm manner, talent and general can-do attitude with the best laugh I've ever heard - you wanted to make him laugh to hear that laugh - made him an ideal co-chair. I am proud to have known him and honoured to have been in his life and experienced his immense talent, warmth and kindness. His poetry and spirit will live on.”

But Bad Betty Press said in a statement: “We are utterly heartbroken at the tragic, untimely and avoidable death of our beloved, friend, colleague, and incomparable poet, Gboyega Odubanjo. It is bitterly painful and disturbing that his death was allowed to happen, at a small, and ostensibly family-friendly festival.

“It is confounding that we, his family and friends, were told repeatedly by Northamptonshire police that an extensive search was under way – including searches of the lake, in which he was not found for several days. That we were discouraged from undertaking our own searches.

“We are broken and bewildered. We send our love to his family, to all in the poetry community and to everyone who loved Gboyega. He was, he is, the best of us.”


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