Peter Florence Announces Hay Festival Querétaro Program for Mexico

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

As Spain’s new surge of the coronavirus precedes the planned Hay Festival Segovia set to open in five weeks, the Hay administration retreats to a digital model for Mexico.

At the 18th century Church of Santa Rosa de Viterbo in Querétaro. Image – iStockphoto: Tank BMB

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Hay Festival Digital Querétaro: September 2 to 7
The Hay Festival’s array of international events today (August 12) is a growing picture in the patchwork of emergency, volatility, and danger of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic in world publishing.

As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, the Hay’s founding director Peter Florence in late June announced a physical festival in Segovia for September 17 to 20—with venues at a third of capacity, staggered timings for events, and many distancing measures in place.

As it has turned out, Spain has just overtaken the United Kingdom for the most COVID-19 cases in Europe, as Voice of America News is reporting, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reporting 326,612 cases in its 6:27 a.m. ET update (1027 GMT) and 28,581 deaths in a population of 47 million, making Spain eighth in the world for coronavirus fatalities.

There is, as yet, no announcement from the Hay Festival administration of changes in the Spain program’s plans, but The Telegraph headline today from James Badcock in Madrid is dire enough that it would not be surprising to see changes needed: “How Spain Lost Control of Coronavirus – Again.” As Badcock writes, “Progress made through a strict lockdown has all but evaporated for the new sick man of Europe.”

Peter Florence

And as the Segovia event five weeks from now may begin to look less feasible than hoped, the Hay is retreating to the model it used for its main flagship event in the spring: the cool safety of cyberspace, Hay Festival Digital Querétaro.

This is the only sensible way to go. With Johns Hopkins seeing 492,522 cases in Mexico this morning, the country is the world’s sixth for caseloads and an appalling third internationally for coronavirus deaths, at 53,929 in a population of 126 million. On Tuesday (August 11), the Obrador government—which along with the Bolsonaro government in Brazil and the Trump administration in Washington is considered three of the most ineffective in the world for COVID-19 responses—reported 6,686 new cases and 926 deaths, as reported by Dave Graham for Reuters.

And the Hay Festival is reminding fans of its success in May, when the main program, normally held in Hay-on-Wye, Wales, served some 490,000 streams to users in 69 countries. The festival raised £95,786 (US$118,352) with in crowdfunding and just over £100,000 (US$123,608) offline, as well. This made it possible for the program to mount more than 100 sessions online for fans at no charge.

What’s more, the Hay staffers—some of them undergoing furlough at times this year as the nonprofit organization tries to keep the lights on—realized at the time that online presentation is not such an unworkable reflection of its format of more than 30 years: onstage interviews, discussions among experts, speeches, lectures, readings, and so on.

What should be appreciated at this point is the forthright disclosure being made in the online information now posted about the Querétaro festival. It is called, as it should be, Hay Festival Digital Querétaro in its site pages.

Querétaro Programming

At Mexico’s Hay Festival Querétaro during one of its usual physical evocations. Image: Hay Festival, Daniel Mordzinski

Florence and his team are announcing a lineup of speakers, to be filled in at some points by sessions from the Hay’s archives.

Held together with attention to “the power of literature in challenging times,” the public-facing festival program is to include appearances by:

  • Salman Rushdie, with his Cervantes satire, Quixote
  • Siri Hustvedt on Memories of the Future
  • Nuria Barrios presenting Todo arde
  • Mónica Ojeda talking about her poetry collection, El ciclo de las piedras
  • Liliana Blum talking about Cara de liebre
  • Emiliano Monge presenting No contar todo
  • Eduardo Rabasa on El destino es un conejo que te da órdenes
  • Irene Vallejo presenting El infinito en un junco
  • Juan Gómez Bárcena launching Ni siquiera los Muertos
  • Elizabeth Duval talks Reina
  • Camila Sosa Villada presents Las Malas
  • Mario Vargas Llosa talks about his latest book on Borges
  • Novelist Daniel Saldaña París discusses his work in progress

Plans also call for masterclass programing, Hay Festivalito events for young people, and “evening concerts”—which if streamed live may not occur in the evening where you live.

And there’s a series of presentations on current affairs and the latest ideas in STEM with Nobel laureate and activist Malala Yousafzai; physicist Miguel Pita; the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet; journalists Jon Lee Anderson, Alma Guillermoprieto, Carolina Robino, Javier Moreno and María Hinojosa; environmentalist Julia Carabias delivering the 2020 Kew Platform event; anthropologists Carlos Castaño Uribe, Roberto Junco and Fiorella Fenoglio; and actor, director and film producer Gael García Bernal.

As so many publishing-related programs clamor for space on everyone’s desktops, laptops, and phones, the advantage is that what normally is a local event becomes universal, something Cristina Fuentes La Roche, who directs the Hay international program points to, saying, “Here’s a free program of events to bring readers together with writers, thinkers, and performers online.

“These intimate sessions, streamed globally, will celebrate the best of Mexican literature with a Hay Festival blend of international thought leaders to inspire and entertain.”

But without the ticket revenue of a standard event format, fund-raising becomes newly central to much of this is not inexpensive, of course.

It takes more than a village to make all this happen, and the extensive effort to create a busy week of coordinated online activity from many parts of the world has, in this case, drawn funding and or other forms of support from the City of Querétaro; a regional partner, SURA; global festival partners Visit Wales; education partners AECID and AC/E; media partners BBC Mundo and El País; university partners University of Nuevo León and University of Mexico; and event partners including Wild Detectives Bookstore, the Colombian Embassy, ​​the Italian Institute of Culture, the Goethe Institute, the Embassy of the United States of America, Royal Botanical Gardens Kew, Blue Metropoli and Cálamo.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the Hay Festival and its events is hereAnd more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As as an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.