As one of the leading literature festivals in the world, Hay Festival has always been interested in highlighting new talent and has collaborated with the UNESCO World Book Capital project in numerous cities. This title is awarded to a different city every year to celebrate the quality and variety of its initiatives to promote books, readership and the editorial industry.
The initial 39 Projects consisted of the selection of 39 writers under the age of 40 with the potential and the talent to define the trends that will mark the future development of literature in a certain language or region. The 39 Project was realized for the first time in Bogotá (UNESCO World Book Capital 2007) and for the second time in Beirut (UNESCO World Book Capital 2010), resulting in both cases in a literature festival in each city with the 39 selected authors from each region (Latin America and the Arab World): four days of literature, debate and the love of books together, with an anthology published of stories/extracts by the authors.
Hay Festival went on to produce Africa39, for authors from sub-Saharan Africa and the diaspora (Port Harcourt UNESCO World Book Capital 2014), and Aarhus39, a selection of the best children’s and YA writers from all over Europe (European Capital of Culture 2017). In addition, Mexico20 in 2015 celebrated the Year of Mexico in the UK and the Year of the UK in Mexico, promoting 20 new voices under the age of forty in Mexican literature and bringing their work to an international readership and the global publishing world. In 2017 the original Bogotá39 project was reprised, and a second list of 39 authors under the age of 40 was selected, ten years on from the first.
Most recently, the city of Rijeka in Croatia has been designated European Capital for Culture 2020, and Hay Festival will organise a three-day festival in Rijeka in June 2020, bringing together 28 prominent female authors, thinkers, writers and scientists. One participant will be chosen from each EU country, across genres and generations, to discuss their visions of the future for Europe.