Wales’ Hay Festival Announces Its 2021 Digital Programming

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This year’s edition of the Hay Festival online opens and closes with gala presentations, reportedly to be streamed from Hay-on-Wye.

At the Hay Festival in Hay-on-Wye, Wales. Image: Hay Festival

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

Streamed from Richard Booth’s Bookshop
The Hay Festival‘s 34th main program—held digitally for a second year—has announced participants in two gala event, one on May 26 and the second on June 5, the eve of the closing day (June 6).

As many world publishing markets start spotting light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, the trend, of course, is to reflect that in branding.

The Hay’s first gala is called “A Night of Hope” and will feature classicist Natalie Haynes with Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; actors Richard Eyre, Theresa Lola, Romola Garai, Jessica Raine, Charly Arrowsmith and Louise Brearley; comedians Sindhu Vee and Rob Brydon; writers Elif Shafak, Juno Dawson, Clemency Burton-Hill, Simon Schama, Rufus Mufasa, Hafsa Zayyan and Margaret Busby; poets Hollie McNish and Karl Nova; rapper Guvna B; and scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock.

The closing gala on June 5 changes up the branding with an emphasis on influential women. Called “From Women to the World,” this one draws on work from two important new books, The Penguin Book of Feminist Writing edited by Hannah Dawson, and Elizabeth Filippouli’s From Women to the World: Letters for a new Century (Bloomsbury).

Performers in those events include actors Kate Winslet, Vanessa Redgrave, Juliet Stephenson, Suzette Llewellyn, Bishop Rose and Suzanne Packer; music star Skin; campaigner Hellen Lunkuse; and, again, Shafak.

Organizers say the events in the Hay program will be streamed from Richard Booth’s Bookshop in Hay-on-Wye.

There are many sections to the programming of this public-facing festival this year, all of which can be found here.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Anne Applebaum ( Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism, Penguin Random House/Doubleday) will give the Christopher Hitchens Lecture.

One point of interest is a nightly focus on debut fiction at 10 p.m. BST (21:00 GMT) including:

  • Catherine Menon (Fragile Monsters) in conversation with Colm Toíbín
  • Raven Leilani (Luster) with Pandora Sykes
  • Ailsa McFarlane (Highway Blue) with Thea Lenarduzzi
  • Natasha Brown (Assembly) with Meena Kandasamy
  • Sam Riviere (Dead Souls) with Megan Nolan (Acts of Desperation)
  • Rebecca Watson (Little, Scratch) with Thea Lenarduzzi
  • Robert Webb (Come Again) with Georgina Godwin
  • Julianne Pachico (The Anthill) in with Rosie Goldsmith
  • Caleb Azumah Nelson (Open Water) with Candice Brathwaite
  • Patricia Lockwood (No One Is Talking About This) with Nina Stibbe

Of interest to our readership, there are internationally focused sessions that include:

  • Chilean writer Isabel Allende
  • Canadian anthropologist Wade Davis
  • Peruvian Nobel Prizewinner Mario Vargas Llosa and Canadian politician Michael Ignatieff
  • A Granta Magazine series of Spanish writers, speaking with the (as yet unannounced) winner of the International Man Booker Prize 2021 (our writeup on the shortlist is here)
  • Book Aid International hosts a conversation between Lord Paul Boateng, library founder Ahmed Dahir Elmi and Somali-born British journalist Rageh Omaar
  • English PEN’s centenary is spotlighted in a discussion around free speech with writers Lydia Cacho and Philippe Sands

That topic we’ll be finding on every agenda this year is here, too, of course, “Our Post-COVID Future.” Some of the speakers trying to divine what lies before us are:

  • Reverend Richard Coles (The Madness of Grief) with “an event on grief”
  • Peter Ricketts (Hard Choices) and Matthew D’Ancona (Identity, Ignorance and Innovation) on politics
  • Noam Chomsky on Consequences of Capitalism
  • Rachel Clarke on Breathtaking: Inside the NHS in a Time of Pandemic with Michael Rosen (Many Different Kinds of Love) and Jim Down (Life Support)
  • Andria Zafirakou (Those Who Can, Teach) on education
  • Ed Miliband on Go Big: How to Fix Our World
  • Jess Philips joins Gina Miller and Francesca Martinez on This is how we Come Back Stronger with James Plunkett
  • Pandora Sykes on How Do we Know We’re Doing it Right?
  • Martin Robinson (You’re Not the Man You’re Supposed to Be) and Guvna B (Unspoken) on toxic masculinity with poet Owen Sheers

Again, full programming details are here, and the events are all presented free of charge but with the hope that you’ll make a donation.  The Hay this year is supported by lead sponsors Visit Wales and Baillie Gifford, and by grant funding from Arts Council England’s Cultural Recovery Fund.

Dates of other Hay events set at this writing are:

  • Hay Festival Segovia, Spain (September)
  • Hay Festival Querétaro, Mexico (September)
  • Hay Festival Arequipa, Peru (November)
  • Hay Festival Hay-on-Wye Winter Weekend, Wales (November)
  • Hay Festival Medellín, Colombia (January 2022)
  • Hay Festival Cartagena de Indias, Colombia (January 2022)


More from Publishing Perspectives on the Hay Festival is here.

More on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

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.

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