Hay Festival is truly a highlight in the bookworm’s calendar. On a typical day at Hay, you might spend the morning sipping coffee on a sofa in the café marquee with a newspaper and croissant on your lap, followed by a talk on Shakespeare’s Women, then a journey into the future of science with the Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, before tripping along to a live lunchtime recording of BBC Radio 3’s The Verb (don’t laugh too loudly or your cackle will be heard by millions!). Over lunch you might catch a glimpse of Stephen Fry walking along in the sunshine, or meet a fellow bumble-bee enthusiast at the next table. Whilst admiring the myriad display of colourful wellies everywhere you look, you rifle through your programme deciding what to go to next. You make a last-minute decision and rush to a talk about homo sapiens, followed by a browse in the books tent and an ice-cream and a read in a deck chair in the sun. Next up, a talk about a better future world and a glimpse at a real page of the Magna Carta, hosted by Stephen Fry and the hilarious Sandi Toksvig, before ending your day dancing at one of the wonderful concerts held in the large Tata Tent.
Princeton University Press has a strong and long-standing relationship with Hay Festival, and we are proud that this year proved to be no exception. Our week was kicked off by the wonderful Beth Shapiro, on the subject of her new book, How to Clone a Mammoth. Is it possible to bring back the mammoth, the dodo, or the sabre-toothed cat? Why would we want to? And, much more importantly, should we? If you’re wishing you could have been there, fear not, as Beth Shapiro gave the same talk at the Royal Institution earlier in the week, and the whole thing can be watched online, here.
Best-selling Irish novelist Colm Tóibín spoke about his new novel, Nora Webster, and his Princeton book On Elizabeth Bishop at Hay’s opening weekend. Despite covering themes of loss and death that recur in Bishop’s poetry, he had the whole audience of 1100 people roaring with laughter.
On Saturday evening, Beth Shapiro and Colm Tóibín were joined by historian Yuval Noah Harari and novelist Owen Sheers to record a live audience programme for Start the Week, to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4. A fascinating discussion encompassing pre-historic animals and humans to 20th century poetry and everything in-between. You can listen to the programme online here.
Other Princeton author events, which this Princeton publicist would love to have attended but had to go back to her day job (perhaps I should take a week-long vacation during Hay Festival next year…) were talks on dark matter and dark energy by Katherine Freese, director of Nordita, the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics and author of The Cosmic Cocktail, and a talk about the process by which artists such as Michelangelo, Dürer, and Titian became early modern celebrities by Maria Loh, author of the beautiful Still Lives.
Who knows who next year will bring to delight the crowds on the Welsh borders. One thing is for sure: it’s worth blocking out your calendar even before you’ve seen the line-up.