At the Book Council we know reading changes lives. We know people who read for pleasure are better placed to contribute to society, that reading novels boosts empathy and that children who enjoy reading will have better social and economic outcomes.
Each year, as New Zealand’s leading national organisation dedicated to reading and readers, we are committed not only to spreading this good news, but to delivering programmes and initiatives that directly support a well-read society.
We do this with a small and passionate team, and I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the people behind the scenes who made it all happen: Lynette Hartgill led our work in schools during 2015; Joy Sellen supported our members and took on the challenging task of administering the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults; Steph Soper took over as our Marketing and Communications Manager in May when we farewelled our longstanding team member Rachel O’Neill; Bianca Cornford continued to keep us on track in her role as Accounts Manager.
During 2015 we reached thousands of readers around New Zealand with unique programmes that promoted reading, particularly of the words of New Zealand writers. 200 local writers participated in our national programmes – the largest promotion of New Zealand writers anywhere.
Occasionally someone will ask me: ‘Oh – the New Zealand Book Council. What does that do?’, and I want to say ‘How much time do you have?’ This is the fourth annual report I’ve compiled as Chief Executive, and one of the genuine pleasures of the task is that it gives me the space to answer that question in the level of detail it deserves.
And as I look at that detail, it astonishes and delights me once again to reflect on how much we have achieved in just one year.
We were in schools
Our Writers in Schools programme has been running for over 40 years! In that time, we’ve reached one million students at over 10,000 events. Every year, we connect more than 100 New Zealand writers with 40,000 young readers from the inner city to remote rural classrooms at events which feature hundreds of schools.
We reach children in rural and low-decile areas, creating unique opportunities for them to meet and be inspired by New Zealand authors and illustrators, often for the first time. Writers in Schools is the only national literature education programme that takes writers directly into students’ classrooms right around New Zealand. And the feedback we receive is fantastic – from students, writers and teachers!
We are constantly looking at new and innovative ways of engaging young people in books and reading. In 2015 we launched three new initiatives – our Skype an Author programme creating the opportunity for long distance writing workshops to take place, our innovative Annual Schools' Community Project – the Ōtāhuhu Writers in Schools Residency Programme, and we launched an online video resource showing writers at work in schools.
We were online
The NZBC Writers Files is the most comprehensive collection of information about New Zealand writers on the web. These files are updated every week. They receive more than 200,000 views around the world per year.
Booknotes Unbound is a vibrant online publishing hub that offers readers the world of books with unique New Zealand content. It gets 2,000 hits a week and our associated newsletter has a 45% open rate – almost double that of most arts and not for profit organisations.
We launched Talking Books – our podcast series discussing new books and issues in the world of Kiwi books and reading. It is the only podcast series dedicated to New Zealand books and authors and has a growing audience.
Updated daily, our news blog brings you literary news, events, and opportunities from all around the country!
The School Library is our children’s book review blog, bringing schools, libraries, parents and teachers in touch with the latest New Zealand titles for children, and the writers and illustrators who create them. Reviews are done by librarians and teachers from our school members.
Our Reading Noticeboard allows readers to find book groups in their area. They have the ability to create their own group, or put a message up to become part of a group
We hit the road
True Stories Told Live was delivered in four separate events across the country. An array of writers delivered stories that enraptured and entranced hundreds of people.
Murder in the Library – we supported events that profiled the country’s crime writing award – the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. Events took place from Auckland to Dunedin and profiled some of New Zealand’s finest crime writers.
Witi Ihimaera challenged our writers to be bolder and braver in his 2015 New Zealand Book Council Lecture – Where is New Zealand Literature Heading? Organised in partnership with the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival, the lecture was then made available to Book Council members everywhere.
We resurrected Words on Wheels in a partnership with the Wanaka Festival of Colour. Five leading New Zealand writers took part in WoW 2015. They threw themselves into a hectic schedule of daily workshops, readings and talks in schools, libraries and more in Wanaka, Queenstown, Cromwell and Hawea.
We supported the sector
We delivered the International Travel Fund in partnership with Creative New Zealand, making it possible for 16 writers to attend seven international festivals.
We continued to use our resources and knowledge to support the distribution and marketing of New Zealand Books – the literary quarterly devoted to reviewing our local writing talent.
We began work on managing the 2016 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, an exciting new project for us.
We supported the Guest of Honour Programme at the Taipei Book Fair and the graphic novel that was created as part of that initiative – Island to Island.
We launched the Sector Steering Group
A group of the great and the good from the literature sector, which we hope will encourage collaborations and partnerships.
A final but crucial highlight of 2015 was the success of our application to Creative New Zealand to continue to deliver the Toi Tōtara Haemata (Arts Leadership) for Literature. This is an important and gratifying vote of confidence from our principal funder, and a clear reassertion of the Book Council’s continuing role as New Zealand’s leading literature organisation. It also guarantees the core funding that underpins our activities well into 2018 – always a very pleasing state of affairs for a small, non-profit organisation that wrings value out of every dollar it receives from state funds and charitable donations.
Applications to Creative New Zealand for Totara status within an arts sector come around regularly, and are much more than a box-ticking exercise by the usual suspects. It’s a contestable status. We contested it, and we succeeded.
Like many others, the literature sector is faced with tumultuous change as a result of galloping technological advances, and the commercial and structural transformations that follow in their wake. Publishing is changing. Arts funding is changing. The way writers communicate with their audiences is changing, and vice versa. Amid the tumult, the Book Council is moving with the times, but we’re never taking our eye off the main prize – the transformation of lives through reading, and the support of our local writers to reach those readers. As the literature sector’s Totara organisation, we’re well placed, and very proud, to carry on doing precisely that.