Hay, Hey, Hay!

Hay Fesitval SignIt’s over dozen years since I first profiled The King of Hay-on-Wye and then listed the Top 197 Tweets from the 2008 Hay Festival. I’ve finally made the pilgrimage to the little Welsh-border village where books are celebrated. While Richard Booth is no longer King, having sold his various properties and suffered serious health challenges, the village has thrived and the festival grown enormously from the first event in 1988 that attracted a few thousand, to the hundred-thousand plus who attend today.

Woodstock for the Mind

President Bill Clinton famously compared the festival to the seminal 60’s rock festival. Absent mud, drugs and nudity, Hay delivers a high to bibliophiles. The loos are clean, the food exquisite, the literature wide-ranging.

Over a three day period, I heard presentations from:

That, and a compelling hour of some of Britain’s finest actors reading Speeches That Changed the World — which I’ll review in a separate blog post.

Whites Only?

Hay Fesitval AudienceThe British do this kind of thing so well. However, I couldn’t help noticing that the festival appealed almost exclusively to a certain demographic — the educated Hampstead Thinkers lampooned by Private Eye were there in large numbers. Radical chic was everywhere. I doubt many voted for Brexit. Any mention of Trump elicited chortles. And it was, without doubt, the whitest audience I’ve seen in a long, long time. While there’s obviously no White’s Only policy, one did wonder where the authors of color and their audiences were.

In Praise of Hay

Town of Hay-on-WyeAway from the Festival crowds, the delightful village of Hay-on-Wye offered great food in a range of pubs and cafes, bookshops everywhere, and pleasant riverside walks. The weather was glorious. Since I slept in a yurt in a farmer’s field this made the experience tolerable.

How The Light Gets In

My one regret this visit is that I did not know about a companion festival held May 24-27 at Hay. The How The Light Gets In festival (named in honor of a Leonard Cohen lyric) is billed as the world’s largest philosophy and music festival. This might be to the Literature Festival what Burning Man is to Woodstock. For those who like their Hay with a nightly rave thrown in.

Hay Player

For anyone curious about the content of the Literature Festival, an annual subscription to the online Hay Player costs just £10.00 and allows you to play as much audio and film from past festivals as you like. Considering the average ticket for just one talk at the Festival is around a tenner, this is a great bargain.

Plus, you won’t need to sleep in a yurt.

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