What is the Hay Festival?

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel rumblings

Today marks the official opening of the 11 day Hay Festival. Set in rural Powys, Hay-on-Wye has a population of about 1,500-2,000 (depending on who you ask) yet attracts half a million tourist a year. A fifth of all visitors come just for the Hay Festival, one of the biggest literary festivals in the world. This 39 bookshop town has a pretty Welsh tourist appeal, even having a ruined castle but it is two manufactured events that draw tourists, the bookshops and the festival.
But is the Hay Festival a literary festival anymore? After all the word “literary” doesn’t appear in the title
It seems to me that it has become more than that. Take the opening events today. There are 11 of them. The Greenprint Forum which occupies which takes up almost half of the sessions covers climate change and green issues. Is that literary? The Archers Miscellany this afternoon is more a media issue and how Powys County Council is going to modernise its schools is a local political issue as is the question time debate that follows it. Tomorrow, there is an interview with the Welsh Environment Minister, a session on plant breeding and then one on emerging artists. Yes there are lots of literary events but the Hay has become more, much more than that.
The organisers call it a gathering, maybe like an eisteddfod. It is to share new visions, to renew our sense of order and to have writers, comedians and musicians who have the capacity to change our lives. Amidst that clutch of words, I suspect the organisers don’t really know what it has become or at least not into something they can summarise in just a few words. It’s not a Welsh event; it’s wider than that. Some of the sponsors are New Spanish Books, the Spanish Tourist Board, the Polish Cultural Exchange the American Hardwood Export Council and Junta de Castilla y Leon. So it has an international appeal as well which is supported by the fact that people come from all over the world to speak and listen.
Maybe it doesn’t need an explanation. The Hay Festival has become so big, so influential and such a tourist draw that just the name identifies it. What an achievement for a small town.

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