Former U.S. president Bill Clinton famously described the Hay Festival as "the Woodstock of the mind." Held this year from May 26 through June 5 in the legendary Welsh "town of books" Hay-on-Wye, the annual festival was founded "around a kitchen table in 1987 and continues to attract the most exciting writers, filmmakers, comedians, politicians and musicians to inspire, delight and entertain," as the organizers put it. A staggering 700 events take place over 11 days.
I've never been, though I'd love to go someday. Each year, I mollify my Hay Festival longings a bit by reading about all the great stuff I'm missing. It is beyond reassuring, however, to see how many British media outlets create dedicated coverage sections, and the organizers do an excellent job of chronicling their festival through social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram).
|photo: Sam Hardwick
What's happening at Hay this year? Lots. Here are just a few highlights thus far:
Shop local Hay: "The book industry and festival industry are all about ideas ultimately, right. Many of the small businesses in town really buy into that. If there's a conventional way of doing things or a more exciting way, they will typically opt for the second," Andrew Williams, chair of the Hay Chamber of Commerce, told the Guardian.
Running with the Hay: "And we're off! Favorite day of the year. Primary School kids from 84 schools across Wales and 20 from the West Midlands making Hay with joy and delight. THIS is the best way to start a festival--RUNNING to the RSC."
Bookshop archeology: "When you walk into a bookshop, have you ever wondered what the titles, authors and collections that you see say about us?" asked archeologist Keith Ray. "I recently ventured into my local bookshop in Hereford and found 27 books on the Roman Empire, seven on the Vikings, and to my surprise, zero on early Wales. The reason, I think, is that a lot of what we understand about the origins of our society is taken for granted. I think we are good at forgetting our history as much as we are remembering it."
Talking About Shakespeare: To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Bard's death, Hay is featuring Talking About Shakespeare, a series of short films in which "the world's leading actors and academics, playwrights and directors, poets and novelists give insight into Shakespeare's contemporary resonance and his understanding of our human hearts."
Marlon James & Irvine Welsh: " 'The one thing we're not going to be talking about is your past in crime,' announced Marlon James, Man Booker 2015 prizewinner. He was speaking to Irvine Welsh, author of The Blade Artist, the latest excursion into the lives of the infamous Trainspotting boys.' '...Or my future,' Welsh replied. 'I stopped shoplifting when I realized I can't do it in my forties.' 'We're being terrible examples right now,' said James."
Cumberbatch at Hay: "Everyone needs some solitude, I like to be able to read for a good chunk of time, really lose myself in the book," said Benedict Cumberbatch, who was also spotted by the Daily Mirror cutting "an altogether different figure as he blended into the crowds at the Hay Festival on Saturday."
Which character are you? "Mid-week at Hay Festival! We ask which literary character are you?"
Hay party!!: "All the photos from the seventh annual GQ Hay Festival dinner in association with Land Rover."
Quixotic moment: "Cervantes' Don Quixote 'makes us ask questions about what reading really is and how someone perceives the world,' said Ben Okri in conversation with Yuri Herrera and Marcos Giralt Torrente."
Have a cuppa? Val and David Morgans "host an open garden at their home in Hay-on-Wye during the Hay Festival, which draws around a quarter of a million people to the town, to raise funds for the Parkinson's U.K. charity."
Unofficial U.S. presidential poll: "Only five or six people in the Hay audience thought Trump would win."
Travel & storytelling... & chocolate: "The more I travel, the more people I meet, the more stories I collect," Joanna Harris, whose books include the international bestseller Chocolat, said. "This funny little book about chocolate, catapulted me into a world of places with stories to tell.... Stories are all about overcoming struggles, defeating external and internal obstacles."
|Hay Festival Bookshop
Hay Festival bookseller: "The Festival Bookshop is at the heart of everything Hay Festival represents; a place where visitors from all over the country come with a shared passion for literature and a love of the written narrative. Expanding this year by 20% in size, the Festival Bookshop has previously reached full capacity, brimming with people and queues stretching into the Festival village green."
Magic places: Anne Brichto, who co-owns three bookshops in Hay and coordinates publication of the town's bookshop map, told the Guardian: "It's like Oxford Street: you need more than one clothes shop to attract crowds. Hay only works because there's so many of us.... We're finding that young people really connect with images of real books and old books in particular, especially leather bindings, the classic Penguin and decorative cloth. It's totally different from buying online. 'Make the place magic and the books choose you,' is what I say."
Or, as the wise Liz Lemon said more than once (if not specifically about the Hay Festival), "I want to go to there." --Robert Gray, contributing editor (Column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)