Writer Ben Brown (Ngāti Mahuta, Ngāti Koroki, Ngāti Paoa) was appointed as the inaugural Te Awhi Rito New Zealand Reading Ambassador for children and young adults in May 2021.
During May and June 2022 you may have spotted posters with Ben Brown’s tauparapara, developed to encapsulate his philosophy of the connection between stories and reading. Phantom Billstickers has been running a campaign with the posters in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
In the middle of June, Ben travelled with writers Elena De Roo and Tina Shaw and writer/illustrator Ruth Paul on the Storylines Story Tour of Northland. Read more here.
In late June, a new Reading Ambassador website was launched that shines a spotlight on Ben’s mahi and all future Te Awhi Rito mahi. On this new site you can keep up to date with all of Ben’s activities and public events. You can also hear his thoughts on reading initiatives to get tamariki and rangatahi reading. Now one year into his two-year term, Ben has a busy programme lined up during the next few months.
Ben Brown (Ngāti Mahuta, Ngāti Koroki, Ngāti Paoa) writes children’s books, non-fiction, poetry and short stories for young people and adults. Born in Motueka in 1962, the father of two has been a tobacco farm labourer, tractor driver and market gardener. Since 1992, he has been a publisher and writer, collaborating with illustrator Helen Taylor in most of his 17 publications. Ben is a regular in the Read NZ Te Pou Muramura’s Writers in Schools programme. He currently lives in Lyttelton.
Many of Brown’s books have a strong New Zealand nature background. Brown and Taylor were shortlisted in 2005 for the Te Kura Pounamu Award in the LIANZA Children’s Book Awards for Ngā Raukura Rima Tekau Mā Rima, the te reo edition of Fifty-Five Feathers. The English edition was also shortlisted for the Russell Clark Award in 2005. He was awarded the Māori Writer’s Residency at the Michael King Writers’ Centre for 2011.
In 2020 Brown presented the annual Read NZ Te Pou Muramura Pānui (lecture) titled If Nobody Listens Then No One Will Know, which received widespread acclaim. His pānui affirms the vital importance of writing, reading and knowing each other through our stories; it explores the complex concept of youth justice in Aotearoa.
In early 2020, Ben Brown taught a writing workshop at Te Puna Wai ō Tuhinapo, the Oranga Tamariki Youth Justice Residence facility at Rolleston near Christchurch. The workshop was part of Writers in Youth Justice, a Read NZ Te Pou Muramura Writers in Communities programme. This workshop resulted in an anthology of poetry by the YPs (Young People) who took part titled How the F** Did I Get Here, edited by Ben Brown.
Te Awhi Rito Tauparapara - Ben Brown
As Ben established how he would respond to the kaupapa of Te Awhi Rito, he developed a tauparapara that encapsulates the power of story, and the strength that is derived from stories and words….
Tuia te ha
Tuia te kupu
Tuia te korero
Tau te maramatanga
Tihei mauri ora
Thread the breath (voice)
Thread the word
Thread the story
Understanding will be yours
Tihei mauri ora
His message is: “Read to your children, read for life.”
The latest from Ben
Frank Film talks to Ben Brown about the power of stories.
Storylines is one of the founding partners in this initiative to engage more New Zealanders with books and reading. The initiative is led by Te Puna Mātuaranga National Library of New Zealand, alongside Te Puna Foundation, Creative New Zealand, Read New Zealand Te Pou Muramura and Storylines. Funding for the role has been provided by Te Puna Foundation for the first three years, though it is anticipated that this will be an enduring programme.
Te Awhi Rito New Zealand Reading Ambassador champions the importance of reading in the lives of all young New Zealanders. The position is conceived as a national reading role model, building visibility and awareness of reading across all sectors in Aotearoa New Zealand and helping to create a nation of readers.
Te Awhi Rito Reading Ambassador will also build the appreciation and growth of stories and literature that reflect Aotearoa New Zealand, including increased creation of and access to reading resources in te reo Māori and the diverse languages and cultures of Aotearoa.
Te Awhi Rito New Zealand Reading Ambassador will advocate for and champion the importance of reading in the lives of young New Zealanders, their whānau, and communities. They will also make connections between the many organisations involved in reading, literacy, literature and the wellbeing of young people.
For more information about the role of Te Awhi Rito New Zealand Reading Ambassador, follow this link.
Te Awhi Rito is appointed part time for two years. The details of the programme they will undertake is determined by the strengths and interests of Te Awhi Rito, working with the partner group, which will provide support to the appointee.
Appointment to the position is by nomination. A selection panel of up to eight people, including representatives of the founding partner group, will make the final decision.
The establishment of a high-profile national voice for reading and literacy is something Storylines has worked for and dreamed of for many years. We are delighted to be working with National Library, Te Puna Foundation, Creative New Zealand and Te Pou Muramura Read NZ to bring the dream to reality.
The name Te Awhi Rito comes from the harakeke or flax plant. The ‘rito’ is the young shoot at the centre of the plant, and ‘awhi rito’ are the strong mature leaves that stand straight and tall to surround, protect and nurture the rito. Outside te awhi rito are the ‘tupuna’ or older leaves that bend towards the ground, supporting the entire harakeke bush and eventually becoming part of the fertile ground beneath. The harakeke is sometimes used as a metaphor for the generations in a family with te Awhi Rito as parents, connecting the young people or rito in the centre of the bush to their grandparents or tūpuna. Te Awhi Rito represents this role in nurturing and inspiring the rito who are the young readers and new readers. The tūpuna represent the many organisations, authors, teachers, libraries and other advocates for reading in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Over time, each Te Awhi Rito New Zealand Reading Ambassador will add their mana and mahi to strengthen the whole harakeke or he pā rito.