Hone Tūwhare is often described as having brought an exciting new dimension to New Zealand poetry: his voice communicated a distinctly Māori perspective marked by a lyrical response to the landscape. His work remained committed to Maori issues, though also highlighting multicultural and working-class concerns, suggesting a world of shifting, multiple identities.
Born in 1922 in Kaikohe, Hone began to write whilst an apprentice at the Otahuhu Railway Workshops, encouraged by fellow poet R. A. K. Mason.
His first collection, No Ordinary Sun (1964), was the first book of poetry by a Maori writer in English. Now in its tenth impression, it remains one of the most widely read individual collections of poetry in New Zealand literary history.
While in Dunedin as a Burns Fellow (1969), Hone met painter Ralph Hotere, who provided the illustrations for his next four volumes: Come Rain Hail (1970), Sap-Wood & Milk (1972), Something Nothing (1974) and Making a Fist of It: Poems and Short Stories (1978).
During the 1970s Hone became involved in Maori cultural and political initiatives. His international reputation also grew: there were invitations to visit both China and Germany, leading, among other opportunities, to the publication of Was wirklicher ist als Sterben in 1985.
While his earlier poems were kept in print, new work was constantly added. Hone's play, In the Wilderness Without a Hat, was published in 1991. Three further collections of poetry followed: Short Back and Sideways: Poems & Prose (1992), Deep River Talk (1993), and Shape-Shifter (1997). In 1998 Janet Hunt wrote Hone Tūwhare: A Biography published by Godwit Press. A year later he was named New Zealand's second Te Mata Poet Laureate, the outcome of which was Piggy-Back Moon (2002).
The Arts Foundation recognised Hone with a prestigious Icon Award in 2003. The Arts Foundation Icon Awards - Whakamana Hiranga, honours senior New Zealand artists for their life-long achievements. The Award is considered the Arts Foundation's highest honour and is limited to a living circle of twenty artists.
In the same year Hone has was awarded a Prime Minister's Awards for Literary Achievement for poetry. The other winners were Janet Frame for fiction; and Michael King for non-fiction.
In 1998, Tūwhare received an honorary Doctor of Literature from Otago University and again in 2005 from the University of Auckland. Also in 2005, Steele Roberts published Oooooo.....!!!, a collection of diverse new poems.
Hone was the subject of a documentary The Return Home which screened at the Telecom Film Festival. He hada compilation album of his poems set to music, featuring New Zealand musicians. Tūwhare the compilation album was also the basis for a special concert of top New Zealand recording artists at the 2006 NZ International Arts Festival.
Hone's Icon medallion (designed by John Edgar) and his Te Mata Estate Poet Laureate carved tokotoko, are housed at the Eastern Southland Gallery in Gore.