Ngā Kupu Ora and the art of “just doing it”

Tohunga Whakairo: Paki Harrison
Winner in the Biography category, 2009 Ngā Kupu Ora Awards

Say what you like about Nike, the ubiquitous, multi-national sporting brand but they sure do a good slogan.  “Just do it” has a bold, action-driven simplicity to it that is hard to deny.  It’s a motto that Spencer Lilley, presenter on day three of TRW 2010 has certainly embodied in his work on Ngā Kupu Ora Book Awards (though I suspect he’d rather not be associated with the aforementioned global brand).

Last year Spencer (Te ātiawa, Muaūpoko, Ngā Puhi) and Massey University colleague Sheeanda Field (Ngāti Porou, Tūhoe and Ngāriki Kaipūtahi) were looking for something interesting to do/promote during Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori – Māori Language Week.  They were also disappointed that despite some very good books on topics Māori being  produced in recent times that these titles weren’t garnering accolades from mainstream awards like the Montanas (which this year will become the NZ Post Book Awards).  So what else to do but create their own book awards?

But there are all sorts of questions to consider in such an undertaking.  How do you determine what a “Māori book” is?  What categories should you include?  How do you decide which book wins?  In some respects the available material determined the  answers to these questions.  It was decided that books on Māori subject matter would be the focus of the awards, rather than work by Māori authors.  As there was a shortage of Māori fiction on offer for that year, this category was not included and winner by popular vote was deemed to be the way to go.

With an overwhelming budget of $50 (in the form of a book voucher to entice Massey staff and students to vote) Spencer and Sheeanda went about  selecting finalists, contacting publishers (in the hopes of blagging some free promo material), drumming up media interest and setting up both online voting, and voting boxes in libraries.  Hundreds of votes were received and the winners were announced at the end of Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori.

While the initial project had only comprised of voting and the announcement of winners there was significant enough amount of interest that on 14 September (Māori Language Day) of last year an awards ceremony was held, with the authors of 5 of the 6 winning titles in attendance, including such luminaries as Ranginui Walker (whose book Tohunga Whakairo: Paki Harrison, won in the Biography category).  Spencer was also thrilled at the generosity of corporate sponsors that meant that oysters and wine (surely staples of any literary event) were available for moistening the whistles of award winners and attendees alike.

The award taonga given to the winning authors were artworks produced by Massey students in the second year of their Bachelor of Māori Visual Art.

Everyone at Spencer’s session was impressed with the initiative, innovation and energy he and Sheeanda displayed in getting the awards off the ground and the “we’ve got no money but let’s do it anyway” attitude they had.

Afterwards I caught up with Spencer and asked him what the project was like, and where the awards might go from here.

There is plenty of information about the awards on Massey’s website, including –

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