Hay Festival 2020 – Digital Highlights

Hay Festival 2020 - digitalI plucked up the courage to attend the Hay Festival on my own for the first time ever in 2016, and I’ve been addicted ever since, so I’m glad that, despite financial uncertainty and the impossibility of running live events, the organisers have managed to create the next best thing – Hay Festival online. And there are benefits – no queueing for the toilet, no stampede in the book tent, no backache from those awkward plastic chairs, and easy access for so many who would normally miss out. But I really do miss the buzz of literary excitement, the roar of applause at the end of an event, and the delicious taste of Shepherds ice cream in the sun.

So here are a few of my highlights from Hay Festival 2020, celebrating the legacy of Wordsworth, the beauty of language, the culture of China, and the relaxation of reading…  

Celebrating Wordsworth

Despite a slight streaming issue at the beginning (not sure if it was my internet or theirs) I enjoyed listening to a few Wordsworth poems, along with extracts from Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal, including my favourite – ‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802’.

Jonathan Bate’s talk took me back to the time I spent volunteering at The Wordsworth Trust, thirteen years ago. He said that Wordsworth’s poetry, and the Romanticism movement, inspired our desire to protect the natural world, influencing the creation of the National Trust. He also reckoned that the young Wordsworth would have been out there protesting with Extinction Rebellion, if he were alive now, though the older Wordsworth would not.

Celebrating Language

I loved listening to Mererid Hopwood on the subject of language. She talked about how the ‘tune’ of a language is absolutely essential, demonstrating this by saying something in one language, to the tune of another. She also talked about the beauty of bilingualism, or multilingualism, describing this as having, not just two ways of saying things, but ‘two different sets of things, or two different windows that each offer a different view on the world’, urging us to view language as something that we can all share, and benefit from.

I love the fact that she called Welsh mutations ‘chic’, and talked about how differences in language can reveal different ways of seeing the world, such as the ‘gyda fi’ of Welsh, where possessions are never seen as belonging to a person, instead they are simply ‘with’ them, implying a transience that is not found in English.

Hay Festival - Michael Wood on ChinaCelebrating Chinese History

According to Michael Wood, China has the longest living continuous tradition of poetry in the world. He talked of Dufu, a confucian poet and historian who lived during the Tang dynasty in the 8th century, and became a refugee, writing about his experience: ‘I am one of the privileged,’ Dufu writes, ‘if my life is so bitter, then how much worse is the life of the common man.’

Wood also talked of the novelist Cao Xuequin, author of The Dream of the Red Chamber, a family saga that is, he argued, the epitome of magical realism, and ‘an extraordinary vision of the high culture of the Quing dynasty’, but it was also inspired by reminiscence, as the author recalled the ‘female companions’ and ‘golden days’ of his youth, when he ‘dressed in silk and ate delicately’.

Celebrating Rest and Reading

One benefit of this digital version of Hay is the fact that each event is available, for free, for anyone to watch again up to 24 hours after it is first aired. I came across a fascinating discussion with Claudia Hammond, whose book The Art of Rest draws on the results of a global research project completed by 18,000 people from 135 different countries. She revealed that ‘reading’ came out at number one on the list of what people find most restful – not a surprise to me, but fascinating considering the diverse range of people who took part in the study.

Much of what they have discovered seems to match common sense, but it does help to know that scientific research has proven the importance of taking regular small breaks during the working day, not just for wellbeing but also for productivity. It was interesting to hear what she said about perception, the fact that, if you think you’ve had plenty of rest, that is more important for your wellbeing and peace of mind than how much rest you’ve actually had.

So that’s a quick tour of my highlights from Hay Festival 2020…

I’ve enjoyed the comfort of attending these events from my sofa, but I really do hope that we can all celebrate the joy of literature in person in 2021. And the festival continues with more events this weekend…

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2 thoughts on “Hay Festival 2020 – Digital Highlights

  1. I also greatly enjoyed listening to Mererid Hopwood and Michael Wood – in fact one of his quotes from the great Chinese writers inspired me to write a little flash fiction!

    Loved David Crystal on conversation too.

    It’s worth subscribing to the Hay Player to catch up on others.

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