Hay Festival reveals 2021 line-up with Smith, Sissay, McGregor and Bennett

Hay Festival reveals 2021 line-up with Smith, Sissay, McGregor and Bennett

The Hay Festival has revealed its free digital programme for this summer's edition with authors including Ali Smith, Lemn Sissay, Jon McGregor and Brit Bennett taking part.

This year's event runs from 26th May to 6th June with conversations, debates, workshops and performances from writers, global policy makers, historians, poets, pioneers and innovators. Organisers say they will discuss some of the biggest issues of our time from building a better world post-pandemic to tackling the crises of climate change, inequality, and challenges to truth and democracy.

The festival kicks off on 26th May with the inaugural opening night gala — “a night of literary delights as we celebrate the power of words to offer hope in our darkest times” — with a selection of star readings hosted by Natalie Haynes.

One year on from the killing of George Floyd, poet Lemn Sissay will present a three-part series in his name, exploring racism and the systemic changes required in the UK and around the world. Elsewhere, 300 years since Great Britain appointed its first prime minister, a series of panels will explore issues of leadership and the global crisis of democracy. Ahead of the UN Cimate Change Conference, the festival’s Hay-on-Earth programme spotlights what is at stake, while Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates will lead three discussions on gender equality.

Other highlights include an exclusive film screening by Ali Smith and conversations with Lisa McInerney, Lionel Shriver, Rachel Cusk, Ethan Hawke, Val McDermid, Brit Bennett, Mel Giedroyc, Jon McGregor, Monique Roffey and others. Graham Norton will launch a new book club with Marian Keyes and Richard Osman, and there will also be poetry with Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, Hollie McNish and Creative Wales Hay Festival International fellow Mererid Hopwood.

A debut novelists section at 10 p.m. each night will see conversations including Catherine Menon with Colm Toíbín, Raven Leilani with Pandora Sykes and Caleb Azumah Nelson with Candice Brathwaite.

Each morning will begin with Haydays sessions for young people and families, while a series of creative digital workshops runs throughout the festival. Its programme for schools will once more be broadcast to pupils across the UK, offering primary and secondary pupils the chance to enjoy the festival’s programming free anywhere, from 24th to 28th May.

Heather Salisbury, Hay Festival artist manager, said: “The support for Hay Festival over the past year has been overwhelming, with our Haymakers, partners, funders and sponsors giving us an incredible opportunity to reinvent what a festival can be. This spring we beam our programme to you from Richard Booth’s Bookshop in the heart of Hay-on-Wye, welcoming writers, readers, thinkers and dreamers together from around the world to join our digital party. We’ll meet this moment of challenge and change with inspiration and vision, and place our trust in the wisdom of writers to guide us through. Join us.”

Events will be broadcast live from temporary studios in Richard Booth’s Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye. Registered users will have the opportunity to interact with fellow audience members online and pose their questions to speakers. All events will be closed captioned and available to watch free for 24 hours after the live broadcast before being added to the festival’s subscription archive. Festival-goers can explore the programme and register for free now online.

Hay Festival 2021 is supported by sponsors Visit Wales and Baillie Gifford, plus grant funding from Arts Council England’s Cultural Recovery Fund. While events are free to attend, donations to the Hay Festival Foundation can be made throughout the programme.