Now in its 30th year, the Hay Festival celebrates a love of reading, writing, ideas and storytelling in a wide variety of forms, including novels, essays, monologues, songs, plays and poems. Bill Clinton, who was a Hay speaker back in 2001, dubbed this eco-friendly magnet for liberals and progressives “the Woodstock of the mind.”
This convivial country gathering has a quirky classroom on a farm inside a separate country vibe, with 250,000+ attendees seemingly united in the pursuit of literacy, artistic expression and human connection. In this idyllic marsh-meadow setting, you’re likely to see Tibetan prayer flags flapping in the breeze, an international assortment of folk singers, and people of all ages in colorful wellies or bare feet, draped on picnic blankets or perched quietly in canvas lawn chairs, wholly absorbed in a collection of good old-fashioned paper-page books.
A Very Literary Lineup
Speakers at this famous international event represent a smorgasbord of Western intellectual culture: novelists, poets, journalists, scientists, actors, comedians, professors, politicians, musicians and more. In addition to readings and performances that are emotionally touching or laugh-out-loud funny, past events have included lectures by the winners of various honors for literature and poetry, including the Nobel Prize.
Making Hay Around the World
Though it began as a small, folksy gathering in a Welsh hamlet, the original Hay Festival has since expanded into several different festivals on five continents. In addition to the Welsh versions of Hay (the main one in May and a smaller-scale event in late winter), there are 8 additional Hays held throughout the year in Denmark, Peru, Mexico, Colombia and Spain. The festival has travelled to 30 locations globally.
Much like the festival at Hay-on-Wye, each separate festival features various writers, thinkers and performers who are endemic to that particular nation, region or culture. Also likely to make appearances at these global festivals are political activists, architects, urban planners, graphic artists and filmmakers.
A Mental Frolic in the Black Mountains
The original version of the Hay Festival is a ten-minute walk from the center of Hay-on-Wye (or Y Gelli, as it’s known in Welsh), a quiet, Norman-era village which is home to about 1,500 people and more than two dozen bookshops, earning its honor as the national book town of Wales. The festival site is set on the northeastern edge of the Mid Wales region’s Brecon Beacons National Park, an unspoiled landscape of valleys, hills, forests, caves, lakes and waterfalls, surrounded by the Black Mountains and peppered with prehistoric and Roman sites. Be sure to plan a few days to explore the area, as the Hay Festival is an ideal jumping off point for a trip that encourages connection with nature, history, culture and introspection.
Designed to inspire people to read and think and share, the Hay Festival is a fun, thoughtful, and community-minded way to simultaneously step into a simpler time and take a great leap forward.