A natural extension of bookish activities in the Welsh border town of Hay-on-Wye, the Hay Festival is now replicated in Ireland, Bangladesh, Colombia, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico and Spain. So what is it about this local celebration of literature that’s attracted the tag ‘Glastonbury for books’ and led the Hay brand to take the world by storm?
To begin to understand, you have to start with Hay the town, which has more than 20 bookshops for a small population of around 1,500. The original Hay festival, conceived around a local kitchen table nearly thirty years ago, is a natural extension of this love of the written word, so is curated from a place of genuine enthusiasm. It’s directors invite the writers they most admire, the greatest contemporary practitioners and the most exciting new voices, with the acknowledgement that great writers work in all media, not just print. They consult publishers, writers and many other experts including the festival-goers themselves, and celebrate great writing not just from novelists but from poets, lyricists and comedians, filmmakers, scientists, environmentalists and politicians.
So this year, for example, the hundreds of talks and discussions on offer feature writers and thinkers including Stephen Fry, Kazuo Ishiguro, Germaine Greer and Michael Morpurgo, and there are gigs by King Charles, Frank Turner, Texas, Tinariwen and The Unthanks. Don’t pretend you’re not already tempted.
But if the Glastonbury comparison reflects the international respect for this remarkable event and its joyous, art-for-art’s-sake ethos, it doesn’t begin to hint at the unique flavour of a glorious intellectual free-for all that’s centred on a tent village but takes over the entirety of this picturesque little town on the edge of the stunning Brecon Beacons National Park.
While most of the high-profile events are individually ticketed, there’s no admission charge to the ten-day meeting of minds, and plenty of free events to entertain you as you browse the bookstalls of the tent village soaking up that unique Hay blend of powerful stories, transformative ideas, thoughtful laughter and moving music. Perhaps that’s why the organisers prefer ‘The Woodstock of the mind’.
It’s great for families, too, with a whole section devoted to toddlers and parents, and the Hay Fever kids’ festival-within-a-festival which this year features Jacqueline Wilson and How To Train Your Dragon author Cressida Cowell. For lovers of Young Adult fiction the Hay YA programme features Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman, Neil Gaiman, Patrick Ness and Geek Girl creator Holly Smale.
And if your brain ever starts to feel overloaded, you can always nip off for a walk, swim, ride or paraglide in the gorgeous Welsh countryside nearby.
21 -31 May 2015 , in a tented village in Hay-on-Wye, admission free, Early Bird booking for individual events currently open