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  • Phoebe Robertson

Revealed: The MP’s Who Can Read

Polled by Phoebe Robertson (she/her) 


In a recent interview with Newsroom, Todd Stephenson, ACT's representative for the arts, spent 20 minutes attempting to remember the name of a single Aotearoa author or book. He eventually named Once Were Warriors, though it remains unclear whether he has just seen the movie. 


He also struggled to recall (any) other details, such as the most recent musical he had seen (Hamilton in New York) and any poems by Tusiata Avia (recipient of the CNZ Prime Minister's award for Poetry). In spite of his party's support for the right to free speech, he objects to one of Avia's poems (subject matter: James Cook). However, to his credit, he does acknowledge that he has read it, so there's one. 


Being involved in the arts feels particularly dismal at the moment. Universities are cutting courses, funding is terrible, and the aftermath of the pandemic has left consumer confidence at an all-time low. Why bother going out to an event when you can stay home and watch Hamilton on Disney+? As someone working in journalism (may it rest in peace) and pursuing a career as an author (may it also rest in peace), I decided to shine a spotlight on the Members of Parliament (MPs) who could potentially serve as our next spokespersons for the arts.


How did I go about this? Simple—I emailed every MP I could find and asked them to name their favorite New Zealand author/book, which I will now judge them for. 


Most indecisive:

Green MP (and former Wellington mayor) Celia Wade-Brown who said it was “impossible to choose a favorite.” She named Hone Tuwhare, Patricia Grace, Maurice Gee and Witi Ihimaera as notable authors. Her most recently read novels were Pet and The Axeman's Carnival, both by Catherine Chidgey.


The coalition pick:

Unsurprisingly, ACT and National came together—several of their MP’s chose the Hairy McClary series as their favorites. They also listed their children as their reasoning for this choice. They would have liked my crossword. 


Most popular:

The Axeman's Carnival by Catherine Chidgey. Paul Goldsmith explained it was “an interesting perspective from a magpie.” Perhaps our minister responsible for treaty negotiations empathizes with stealing things from the public. As bird lovers here at Salient, we approve of this choice. 


Double take:

Chris Bishop, picked The Halfmen of O by Maurice Gee—a novel that, just like his Snapchat history, is targeted toward teenagers. 


Biggest flex:

Ginny Andersen, who has a first edition of Janet Frame’s 1957 novel Owls Do Cry. It’s a modernist novel, telling the story of the Withers siblings over 20 years of their lives on a coastal town in the South Island. It draws upon Frame’s life, particularly her time spent in mental asylums. 


Lovebirds:

Rachael Brooking had a Hone Tuwhare poem read at her wedding. 


Runner up:

The runner up for popular choice was Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton. A quite topical pick, focusing on billionaires and the climate crisis. 


Closest to home:

Green MP Teanau Tuiono, who named Where the Rekohu Bone Sings by Tina Makereti. For those of you who don’t know, Tina Makereti is a lecturer here at Te Herenga Waka under the International Institute of Modern Letters—and a brilliant writer. 


Governments pick:

The highest ranking person to respond to my email was Winston Peters, who named the memoir Simple on a Soap-Box by John A. Lee. A (brief) overview of John A. Lee’s career: he was known for his strong socialist beliefs and advocacy for social justice, and championed state housing and welfare reforms as a Labour Party member—but his radical views and criticisms of party leadership eventually led to his expulsion in 1940. He then went on to found his own left-wing party, the Democratic Labour Party. I hope you learned something from that history lesson. I’m not convinced that Peters did. 


My pick for next Arts spokesperson:

(to no one's surprise) Chlöe Swarbrick with Coco Solid’s (Ngāpuhi/Sāmoa) debut novel How to Loiter In a Turf War. I first read this book in one sitting, and would recommend it to anyone wanting to dive into Aotearoa literature.

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