The Hay Festival – a celebration of literature or fame?

Comedy store players at Hay Festival

The Comedy Store Players

It has struck me that the Hay Festival seems to be more about politics and ideas than books or literature. Out of the 26 events which I attended (mainly as a steward), only 12 of them could really be classed as having a focus on literature, and several of those were about Shakespeare. It seems much more to be a case of getting celebrities to come along and talk about their one book, which could be on any subject from dogs to politics. I do hope that this trend doesn’t get out of hand, and that the celebrity attraction will be balanced out, next year, with plenty of real literature.   

Of course, these celebrities would certainly say that what they have written is ‘real literature’ and I’m not suggesting that non-fiction is not literary. But I do wonder whether fame has more of a bearing on whether or not a person will appear at the Hay Festival, rather than quality of writing.

It also felt rather as if almost every single event was related in some way to the EU referendum or to Shakespeare. These trends kept coming up again and again, until I was thoroughly sick of both! This is not to say that I don’t like our national bard, but there was deep irony in the fact that every Shakespeare scholar seemed to emphasise how important it is for us to enjoy the plays as theatre, rather than simply to read and study them. How I would have loved there to be an actual Shakespeare play performed as part of the festival!

The highlight of the festival for me was in fact the only piece of real Shakespeare theatre – a truly magnificent and hilarious improvisation from the talented Comedy Store Players, performed purely by inspiration from the audience. One audience member suggested a title – ‘The Two Cobblers of Talgarth’, another asked for ‘Shakespeare style’, and still another asked for musical theatre. The result was so funny and so Shakespearean that I was laughing almost non-stop throughout.

Having said all this, I thoroughly enjoyed almost every single minute of the Hay Festival, and will definitely go again next year. But I might look elsewhere for my literature fix, at some of the smaller literary festivals, where literature has not yet been eclipsed by fame.

Photo taken by Joel Keith-Hill

One thought on “The Hay Festival – a celebration of literature or fame?

  1. Enjoyed reading through your Hay Festival blogs☺ Have never been to Hay but have done Laugharne Weekend a few times and what you had to say chimed with me. I think there is maybe too much in terms of the tension between actually celebrating literature and celeb writers showing up to promo their latest work, (work that is usually actually relying on their celebrity rather than literary status) reeling of anecdotes they can reel off in their sleep cos one festival is followed by another and they are effectively ‘touring’. That said always unexpected delights to be unexpectedly delighted by and (as you discovered in Hay) sometimes it turns out to be a small world and you bump into people from way back whe.☺. Lovely to read that you, basically, had quite a time of it, if tempered slightly by so many people seeking to be topical/relevant that all the EU referendum talk added a little deja to your vu ☺

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