I doubt we could have brought together the actors who will launch our Wordsworth 250 celebrations in real life. Simon Armitage, Margaret Atwood, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hollander, Helen McCrory, Jonathan Pryce, Vanessa Redgrave are a dream team, reading around Shahidha Bari’s nano-conferences. Nobel economists Esther Duflo and Paul Krugman can shine this year like never before, and if we need a little less talk of an evening, Royal Ballet superstar Fernando Montaño will dance the dying swan for us directly from his studio in LA, Helena Bonham Carter joins Shakespeare by Allie Esiri, Inua Ellams updates her magical evening with a coronavirus immigrant, Stephen Fry and Natalie Haynes tell different aspects of Troy’s story, and guitarist David Gilmour will play a Von Trapped family concert to celebrate the magnificent novel by Polly Samson about the Greek summer of Leonard Cohen A theater for dreamers.
If the heart of the program remains great discussions with great novelists such as Hilary Mantel, Maggie O’Farrell, David Mitchell, Anne Enright and Elif Shafak as well as non-fiction stars including Philippe Sands, Hallie Rubenhold and Steve Silberman, we’ve also found a deeper resonance in some of the conferences commissioned last year. Examination of antimicrobial resistance by former CMO Dame Sally Davies could not be more relevant, nor could Afua Hirsch’s interrogation of factual journalism.
I wish we could all be together in a field in Wales in a fortnight, that you could visit the pubs and bookstores in our lovely town, and that we could party together under the dark sky of the national park by Brecon Beacons. Thousands of Haymakers have given money and sent love to keep us in business, and Baillie Gifford has given us a digital platform. Our glass is much more than half full. May it rain in May this year. And we may be delivering our very first concert with a negative carbon footprint. And there is the latter, perfect irony. The festival is the complete opposite of “social distancing”. It’s about being together, contacting and exchanging. But in this antithesis, there is another truth that the Internet knows at the base: stories and ideas are also spread virally, from the writer to the reader, from this mouth to this ear, and in this reality, there is an opportunity. Let’s replace infection with inspiration, isolation with connection and open Hay festival to everyone, everywhere. It has never been more important to respond to the world with imagination and hope.
For more information, visit hayfestival.org/digital