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The Hay Festival moves online

One of the world’s most renowned book festivals, the Hay Festival, which takes place annually in the Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye, has innovatively been moved online for the first time ever. The festival will run completely online with a digital programme from May 22 to 31. 

It will feature lots of free live broadcasts along with question and answer sessions from over one hundred writers around the world. A highlight of the event seems to be ‘Wordsworth 250: A Night in with the Wordsworths’ which will feature readings by Simon Armitage, Margaret Atwood, Benedict Cumberbatch, Monty Don, Stephen Fry and Helen McCrory, to name a few. Other highlights include pieces by Royal Ballet dancers like Fernando Montaño. Theatre and ballet are often seen as rather exclusive past-times, but this online event will allow anyone of any age to enjoy performances through these art forms.  

Hay has a special place in my heart. My mum took me a few times when I was younger and one year, I managed to get a book signed by my favourite author at the time – Jacqueline Wilson. I can safely say that the atmosphere, environment and magic of Hay was a contributing factor to my love of reading and arts today. Sadly, this year many people are being denied the beauty of Hay, but in many ways its appeal will reach much wider than it ever has before. 

Whereas music festivals around the world have been forced to cancel, it is much easier for book festivals to adapt to a digital platform. They don’t require masses of equipment, a band of musicians who generally need to be in the same room, or a physical audience. Guests can speak remotely and do panels, readings and question and answer sessions from the comfort of their own homes.

Hopefully, it’s only this year that authors and readers alike will miss out on such a special event

This year’s online Hay Festival has the ability to reach audiences like never before. The event is normally held in May/June time which often excluded me from going as a teen as I had always had exams around these times; the ticket prices and travel costs are also often too much for most people. 

Online book festivals like Hay have the power to widen access to what can often be seen as a rather elite industry within the arts: they can inspire passion in the next generation of writers, artists and creatives which is particularly important when so many children are missing out on their education. Parents who can’t normally afford to take their kids along to book readings or discussions are able to give them access to these for the first time. 

Authors often see the Hay Festival as a collaborative space that allows them to suggest and find inspiration for ideas, so it is sad that the same atmosphere won’t be there this year. Despite this, the organisers are trying their best to emulate the usual connectivity through interactive discussions. Hopefully, it’s only this year that authors and readers alike will miss out on such a special event. 

Times are difficult currently and many are finding comfort in the world of arts and literature

The Hay Festival organisers have done an amazing job at making alternative arrangements. In just a few weeks they have completely adjusted and adapted plans that had been made years in advance. Instead of cancelling the event completely and disappointing thousands of fans, they made the best decision by choosing to put the event online.

The event has also adapted its programme, with events exploring the impact of coronavirus, including Elif Shafak discussing the impact of the pandemic on social justice. This shows the pure adaptability and importance of an event that is not blind to the issues going on in the world right now. 

Times are difficult currently and many are finding comfort in the world of arts and literature. An online Hay Festival will provide joy and inspiration to so many people around the world, as well as reaching a much wider audience than it has ever done before. 

Much must also be said for the writers, celebrities and artists who have agreed to take part online – with over one hundred performers and readers, the event feels lively and exciting. I, for one, can’t wait to hear Simon Schama talk about the impact of nationalism in our global age. I urge you to look at the programme and find solace within the arts. 

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