View Full Version : Is Hay still a literary festival?
It is officially termed the "Hay Festival of Literature and Arts". But isn't it rapidly turning into an all-celebrity event? What on earth have ex-President Carter, Tariq Ramadan, Jeremy Clarkson, Jamie Oliver and Cherie Booth got to do with the kind of literature discussed on this forum?
Wouldn't it be nice if the festival went back to its roots and invited more writers of fiction and poetry - especially lots more from Europe? So that you can get a sample of the author, see them in person, but then go home to read the book in peace.
A link to the actual festival site (http://www.hayfestival.com/wales/default.aspx) first.
Hay isn't a festival I've typically looked at before. More heard of, than anything else. Looking over their brochure, I do see that a great number of the events are sponsored by this body or that and no doubt your President Carter and Cherie Booth-Blair are there to push more sales for their books so the publishers can recoup those massive advances they would have paid out. Jamie Oliver and Jeremy Clarkson - pretty much fluff for the mums/dads/indifferent spouses.
But amongst all that I do see events with the names:
New Fiction From China
Introducing the most exciting new voices from China, with Ha Jin (A Free Life), Zhu Wen (I Love Dollars: And Other Stories of China) and Yan Lianke and his translator Julia Lovell, whose sexy, satirical Serve The People! is sensationally banned back home.
The Man Who Planted Trees
A puppet adaptation of Jean Giono's book of the same name.
Introducing the cream of new fiction from Latin America with Colombian Juan Gabriel V?squez’s The Informers, Peruvian Santiago Roncagliolo, and Mexican Guadalupe Nettel.
World Class Fiction
Rosie Goldsmith introduces three of the biggest contemporary novels: Philip Hensher’s The Northern Clemency, Manil Suri’s Indian birthof-a-nation The Age of Shiva, and the
Argentinian masterpiece Alan Pauls’ The Past.
Alan Pauls' The Past, incidentally, was on the longlist for this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. The Hensher has received a thumbs down all round. No idea about the Suri.
Ma Jian & Flora Drew
The contemporary Chinese masterpiece tours the mind and loves of a student shot in Tiananmen Square.
Wales Book of the Year
Robin Chapman introduces the writers on the shortlists in Welsh and English.
The eminent Mexican writer and diplomat talks about his conservation project to save the Latin American Monarch butterfly.
OKay, it's not about his poetry. But he's there.
And, well, that's it as far as world literature goes. I'm quite surprised at how much of it is non-fiction based and then, on top of that how much can be split between journalists and BBC Radio 4 personalities.
So, to answer your question: is Hay still a literary festival. No, it's still a Literature and Arts Festival, but it really does have a under representation of literature, never mind world literature. Some of the authors mentioned on the programme are drop offs from last year's Booker longlist, such as Catherine O'Flynn (http://booklit.com/blog/2007/09/03/catherine-oflynn-what-was-lost/), Nikita Lalwani (http://booklit.com/blog/2007/09/02/nikita-lalwani-gifted/), and Edward Docx (http://booklit.com/blog/2007/10/18/edward-docx-self-help/) (names link to my blog reviews of each longlisted title). Surely these people should be giving up on those books and get onto the next one.
If anything, what I can say about Hay Festival is that, even if they don't do sterling work on the literature front, their choice of musical acts - mostly from Africa - is fantastic. But then it's a mixed arts festival and we therefore have comedy, literature, journalism, religious sensationalism, music, and drama all jostling for places on three stages in a week. If you want a festival with literature as its sole focus that will give a voice to many writers from around the world, that's what the Edinburgh International Book Festival (http://www.edbookfest.co.uk/) provides.
I see Stewart's points, but I repeat: where are the Europeans? It seems to me that all of a sudden, Britain has discovered foreign literature - but has hopped right over Europe, ignoring our dozens of neighbouring literatures and started inviting a combination of overpaid celebrities and ex-members of governments with a marginal connection to literature, plus people from faraway countries which seem to suggest a combination of colonial guilt (as long as the expiation is done in the English language) and geo-political opportunism-cum-provocation (keeping well in with potential trading partners, the Chinese, while moralising tiresomely about how Tiananmen Square was rather naughty).
What has European literature done wrong? Where are the famous, less famous, not-yet-heard-of, or even stone-cold dead writers from Benelux, Scandinavia, the Baltics, the Balkans, Russia, Eastern & Central Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, Italy, Germany, etc., etc.? Who are these organisers who totally ignore the whole of the continent next door to Britain, barring Giono? The one token Frog, representing the whole of Europe? A puppet adaptation of something by someone who died in 1970.
Pathetic, is the way I would describe this. It's the mammoth in the room. No Continentals please, we're British. The great and the good at Hay will examine Asia, Latin America, the Indian Subcontinent. Anywhere, as long as it's not Europe; as long as we can continue to ignore the authors from the 25 non-English-speaking countries whose club, the European Union, we happen to be a member of. Plus the half-dozen or so countries outside the club, such as Norway, Iceland, Russia, Ukraine, Switzerland, etc., all of which produce copious amounts of fiction and poetry.
Watching a programme about John Prescott (Brits will know who this is) on TV this evening, I found out what's wrong with the Hay-on-Wye book festival: it's regarded as middle-class. So, perhaps the middle classes are to blame for shunning all those foreign authors and inviting only friends and TV personalities only.
Maybe one problem with Britain today, one which inhibits the spread of decent literature from abroad, is that money and commerce have got in the way of curiosity and taste. Now that we're plunging into recession, I hope this will somehow mean that Brits, sobering up and noticing that Europe is in the same boat, will get more interested in its literature. (Books in translation are cheap for out-of-work City people.)
I myself am middle-class, but I can't help wondering why this class can't loosen up. The Hay festival would become so much more stimulating if they took on board Europeans, from whatever class.
Revisiting this thread, I see, sadly, that the Hay Festival has maintained its celebrity cult and seems to have even less to do with real literature, books from Europe and beyond, etc. Though since her husband got sacked, the sherry booth seems to have been closed down. Nor is the name Tariq Ramadan as much in evidence nowadays.
I'm still hoping that Britain starts a kind of annual World Literature Festival, with as wide a scope as this website at its best.
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