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Hay Festival in Hay-on-Wye

By Maisie Clarke, Brittany Holness, Gemma Mathers, Holly Butterfield and Bianca Scasserra

Every summer, for an eleven-day span, the Hay Festival hosts an extraordinary event gathering readers and writers from around the world to share their passion for stories. Starting in 1987, this charity encourages its attendees to envision the world and potential change for its future. Legendary speakers from diverse fields deliver talks throughout the festival, imparting their wisdom and insights to the crowds. This festival takes place in Hay-on-Wye, more commonly known as the “Town of Books” due to its remarkable collection of over twenty bookshops. This town, located on the edge of the Brecon Beacon in Wales, has become a desirable destination for booklovers to come and visit, and what better time to do so?


Developed over the past thirty-six years, Hay Festival now provides events in thirty locations across the world. In addition to its classic literary festivals, this charity also provides year-round educational and outreach programmes with the aim of creating unity among communities worldwide and igniting an inspiration within future generations.


First and foremost, Hay Festival hosts a multitude of talks from celebrated authors, prize-winners, presenters and journalists spanning a wide range of genres. These talks create a diverse and impactful platform allowing for education, entertainment and celebration in all areas of literature. Bear Grylls, a frequent speaker at the festival, discussed tales from his memoir Never Give Up and demonstrated ways to build up mental resistance. This dive into human nature, adventure and the importance of mental health is an example of Hay Festival’s diverse choices. On the other end of the genres, Alastair Campbell and Rafael Behr discussed the ways people can integrate themselves into politics and make a real difference – a topic greatly relevant in today’s society. Additionally, Gary Younge, in discussion with Jeffrey Boakye, talked about his experiences with journalism and race and his three decades worth of encounters with significant events from Britain, Africa and the US. Clearly, the Hay Festival is more than a simple celebration of literature but rather a delve into important, hard-hitting topics such as climate change, politics and race and the importance of education through literature.


Moreover, the most recent Hay Festival saw a convergence of diverse bibliophiles finding solace in literature. Excitingly, there were several prominent figures that represented the entertainment industry at this annual event for literature enthusiasts. This included British rapper Stormzy and singer Dua Lipa. The latter had an intriguing conversation with Gaby Wood where she revealed her relationship with reading, explaining the significant role that books have played in her life, also mentioning her podcast Dua Lipa: At Your Service which further highlighted this. She emphasized how reading has contributed to her creativity, especially as a songwriter. Stormzy also attended to commemorate five years of his imprint, Merky Books, which he launched in conjunction with Penguin Random House. He was also joined by authors whose books were published by his house. His imprint at launch aimed to publish books that not only would change the mainstream, but also own it. Its aspirations were to act as a platform for underrepresented voices in the mainstream publishing industry.


Moreover, Alice Oseman, author of the immensely popular Heartstopper series, engaged in a conversation with BookToker Jack Edwards. The discussion centred around the astonishing success of this series, and as a result, its adaptation to Netflix. Included in this discussion was the impact that social media platforms such as BookTok can have in increasing a book’s reach to a more widespread audience. The Hay Festival acts as a platform where literary enthusiasts of different walks in life can interact based on shared interests and passions, as it relates to the current and future of the publishing industry.


Whilst the Hay Festival is a playground for avid writers and readers alike, there was also an opportunity for participants to unwind and enjoy other activities. In order to begin the day with a renewed sense of optimism, festivalgoers could be treated to a spot of morning yoga; a chance to unwind before the rounds of inspirational talks. In amongst the insightful discussions and famous faces, the venue became a symphony of tunes with the inclusion of brass band performances. Visitors were then able to bask in Hay-on-Wye's green rich terrains with the formation of a “Wayfaring Walk.” The tour involved ventures through the vast fields surrounding Hay-on-Wye guided by ecologists from the Brecon Beacons National Park who imparted their knowledge on all things nature: a great cultural dive into a town that has brought many accomplished minds in unison. Lastly, a true event is not complete without a little comic relief! Hay Festival was greeted with laughs and sharp quips in equal measure as they welcomed Toussaint Douglass, Sam Campbell, and Jen Brister for Friday Night Comedy Club, all orchestrated by the wonderful Kiri Pritchard-Mclean.


Although the UK summer festival is sadly over for the year, for only £15 a year you can access the website’s “Hay Player” to watch all of the recordings from the past festival from the comfort of your own home. You will also have access to monthly book discussions and micro-lectures. The dates have already been announced for the festival next summer: 23 May to 2 June 2024! But, if you can't wait, then a weekend winter edition of the festival is happening later this year from 23 to 26 November, a tie in with the turning on of the Christmas lights in Hay. Numerous other Hay literary festivals will be taking place around the world in the meantime, with upcoming events in Mexico, Spain and Peru, so be sure to sign up for their newsletter or keep an eye out on their website for all upcoming events so you don't miss out.



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