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Hay Festival: Our Must-See Events

Hay Festival is one of the biggest literary festivals in the world, a celebration of words, creativity and big ideas. And it opens its doors in exactly one month! This year the festival, which began in a pub garden decades ago, turns 36 and expects 100,000 plus visitors to come to an 11 day programme of talks, workshops and entertainment. The festival takes place in the idyllic village of Hay-on-Wye which has been famous for its bookshops ever since ‘King’ Richard Booth opened the first second bookshop there over 50 years ago.

There’s so much to see, so we’ve put together a little list of some of the events we are most excited for!

Queer Words

As a queer collective, we couldn’t help get excited about the queer events Hay Festival has on offer. And on Sunday 4th June, Graham Nolan (Hay Pride) is going to be bringing together a panel of LGBTQIA+ writers to talk about the stories that have shaped them, and the power of visibility and representation.

The panellists are Cheddar Gorgeous, star of Channel 4’s Drag SOS and BBC’s RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, Crystal Jeans who is a short story writer and novelist as well as winner of the Wales Book of the Year for her novel ‘Light Switches Are My Kryptonite’ and Durre Shahwar, who is a writer and the editor of ‘Gathering’, an essay anthology of nature writing by women of colour. Tickets are available here.

Rising Stars

We are a press that champions new writers, so we are always really excited to hear from debut authors. And you can catch debut author of ‘Rosewater’ (as well as founder and former CEO of the award-winning publication gal-dem) Liv Little not once, but twice this year!

On Saturday 3rd June she will be speaking to Emma Dabiri about her new book, which follows South Londoner Elsie as she navigates rejection, relationships and the pressure to keep it all together. Tickets are available here.

Later that day Liv Little will be speaking to activist and model Munroe Bergdorf, who will be talking about authenticity, community and healing. With these two powerhouses on stage, this is likely to be a pretty special event. Tickets are available here.

Poetry in Focus

So many amazing poets are going to be speaking at Hay Festival. But one event we’d recommend adding to our calendar takes place on Friday 26th May and is the chance to hear from three of the most exciting voices on publisher Faber’s poetry list read from their latest collections.

Kunial’s ‘England’s Green’ was shortlisted for the 2023 TS Eliot Prize; its poems find the true and the timeless in the lived everyday and invite the reader to look again at the places and the language that we think we know. Laird’s ‘Up Late’ is a powerful collection reflecting on the strange and chaotic times we live in; it contains a sequence meditating on a father’s dying, which won the 2022 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. Sullivan, who won the TS Eliot Prize in 2019 for her debut ‘Three Poems’, performs from ‘Was it for This’, an exhilarating exploration of the ways in which we attempt to map our lives in space and time. Tickets are available here.

Changing Mindsets around Climate Change

Something Hay Festival does really well is centre the climate and sustainability. So it was hard to pick just one great event touching on this topic because there really are so many. On Tuesday 30th May Diwigdi Valiente and Farah Faizal will be in conversation, discussing the threat of disappearing islands and cultures.

Rising sea levels are threatening the coastal communities around the globe, forcing communities to move inland; but what if there is no ‘inland’. Small, low-level islands are at real danger of disappearing under the waves, what happens to the people and their culture. Diwigdi Valiente is an indigenous leader from the Guna peoples of Panama with more than 10 years of experience as a social entrepreneur and consultant on sustainability. A passionate protector of the ocean, they founded the Burwigan Project, an art collective that inspires actions against climate change and plastic pollution within the Panamanian population and indigenous communities. Farah Faizal is the High Commissioner of Maldives to the UK and Ambassador of Maldives to France, Ireland and Spain. Tickets are available here.

If you’re looking for a practical approach to climate change, join Hay’s four solutions-focused workshop sessions covering energy, health, food, mobility, what we wear, biodiversity and where and how we live. Get your tickets to these here to discuss the scale of each issue and a range of solutions, how to action them, how they might impact on their lives and how to manage the change.

Art and Music

Artist Tracey Emin and Dylan Jones will be in conversation on Thursday 1 June.

Turner Prize-winner and maverick artist Tracey Emin experienced an unexpected and extraordinary creative rebirth after being diagnosed with bladder cancer, having the organ removed and being fitted with a stoma. She talks candidly to Dylan Jones, former editor of GQ magazine, about her work, career and brush with death. Emin, once known as the enfant terrible of the Young British Artists in the 1980s, is now a Royal Academician, and in 2011 was one of the first two women professors since the Royal Academy’s founding in 1768. Jones’ latest book is ‘Faster Than a Cannonball’, an oral history of the music of 1995. Tickets are available here.

Hay Festival runs from 25th May – 4th June in Hay-on-Wye. Tickets are available here.

I am going to be writing all about the second weekend of the festival from a borrowed tent in the Tangerine Fields. I’ll be seeing a jampacked programme of events reporting back to you on all of them, so watch this space.

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