Running from the 23rd May to 2nd June 2019, the picturesque market town Hay-On-Wye is hosting the Hay Festival for the 32rd time. This year notable appearances include Stephen Fry reading from his Mythos book; Maxine Peake reading The Mask of Anarchy; Lucy Worsley on her new book, Queen Victoria: Daughter, Wife, Mother, Widow; and Ian McEwan considering his new novel, Machines Like Me. However, my visit entailed two unlikely events that centred on unusual subjects that enlightened me in ways unexpected.
The first event was from the man, the myth, the legend: Simon Schama. In a warm Ballie Gifford Stage, Schama looking into Rembrandt’s Eyes. He guided us through the 17th century Dutch painter’s landmark on art history in a lively and illuminating talk. Taking us through the peak and eventual trough of his life, we saw his generosity in art grow in the forms of a multitude of subjects: from his wife Saskia until her death, dissections and the nature of mortality, and the tortures of the female body.
However, one particularly captivating piece has stuck with me. The first work Schama introduced his talk with was Rembrandt’s Winter Landscape. Admist the heat of the tent, the audience was transported to a chilly Dutch farmyard blanketd in snow. Working from sketches inside his studio, the movements of ink and a stick presents Rembrandt aptly; his simplicity in places, in the face of unconvinced critics.
Whilst I went into the Ballie Gifford Stage largely ignorant of Rembrandt, I left informed, inspired and a little in awe of Schama.
The second event I attended was hosted by cartoonist Chris Riddell and former laureates Julia Donaldson (known for Zog and the Gruffalo), and the one and only Michael Rosen. Having taken a Children’s Literature module last semester and coming out all the wiser for it, I listened to their spell-binding approaches to engage young children to literature. Riddell drew highly entertaining picture to illustrate his talking, Donaldson and her husband drew the audience together with musical sign language and Rosen’s familar voice ensnared the room with his entertaining stories.
Whilst this event concerned children’s literature, naturally there were many issues raises for adult consideration: the political hold over education. All three enthused their frustration over sharing ideas with numerous Secretaries for Education, albeit it falling on deaf ears. They believe exam questions are set up wrongly, especially from SAT level. They ask why an author writes about their character in such a way, when at A level or degree level, the author is detached from the work and it is only the persona that must be considered. Riddell being a political cartoonist made light of this, and the other recent events of late…
In all, the Hay Festival once again succeeded in opening my mind to the importance of things I had been closed off to. I left the maze of tents and flags feeling inspired and invigorated by the voices of passionate people raising important points. I cannot recommend this literary festival enough: an unusual and eye-opening array of events. It has to date been attended by two American presidents over its three decades of running, it’s iconic white tents now host to over 250,000 visitors over its ten days.