On the opening night of Hay Festival 2021, writers join forces with stars of stage and screen in a unique celebration of the power of words. Beaming in voices from around the world, host Natalie Haynes presents an evening of joy, celebration and remembrance as performers share the poems, books, plays and speeches that have inspired them most over the past year.
Performers include HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, actors Richard Eyre, Jessica Raine, Stephen Fry, Theresa Lola, Romola Garai, Charly Arrowsmith and Louise Brearley, comedians Sindhu Vee and Rob Brydon, writers Elif Shafak, Juno Dawson, Clemency Burton-Hill, Simon Schama, Rufus Mufasa, Hafsa Zayyan, Margaret Busby, poets Hollie McNish and Karl Nova, rapper Guvna B, scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock, and more.
This visceral new novel from a former Booker prizewinner is about family, love, hope – and orange-bellied parrots – set against global catastrophe. Anna's aged mother is dying, if her three children would just allow it. Condemned by their pity to living, she increasingly escapes through her hospital window into visions of horror and delight. When Anna's finger vanishes and a few months later her knee disappears, Anna, too, feels the pull of the window. She begins to see that all around her others are similarly vanishing, but no one else notices. All Anna can do is keep her mother alive. But the window keeps opening wider, taking Anna and the reader ever deeper into a strangely beautiful world.
Quick Reads are short books and great stories by bestselling authors. To mark its 15th anniversary, two of its writers discuss the importance of reading, how it changed their lives and how books have the power to support all of us in a time of crisis.
Join us to celebrate Raven Leilani, the winner of the £20,000 prestigious literary prize for writers aged 39 and under. This year's winner talks with the 2020 recipient, who won with Lot, his collection of short stories of a young man finding his place among family and community in Houston.
The 2021 shortlist comprised of:
Alligator and Other Stories by Dima Alzayat (Syria/USA)
Kingdomtide by Rye Curtis (USA)
The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi (Nigeria/USA)
Pew by Catherine Lacey (USA)
Luster by Raven Leilani (USA)
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (USA)
Leilani will also appear later in the Festival in our 10@10 series in conversation with Pandora Sykes on Friday 4 June [event 115]
With lyricism reminiscent of Toni Morrison and James Baldwin, Robert Jones Jr tells an unflinching story of a forbidden union between two enslaved men in the Deep South of America. Isaiah and Samuel are lovers. The barn is their home on the plantation, the one place they can go to be alone together. It becomes a place of refuge where their love can flourish, blurring the horrors of the vicious world around them. The others know that there are many ways to shelter from the most evil of regimes, and keeping the community’s tender secrets is one of them.
A masterful debut novel of the pain of inheritance, the power of hope, and what happens when brutality threatens the purest form of serenity.
Sharp-tongued and ferocious, Mary is a difficult grandmother for Durga to love. When Durga visits her in rural Malaysia, she only wants to endure Mary, and the dark memories home brings, for as long as it takes to escape. But a reckoning is coming. Stuck together in the rising heat, both women must untangle the truth from the myth of their family's past. What happened to Durga's mother after she gave birth? Why did so many of their family members disappear during the war? And who is to blame for the childhood tragedy that haunts her to this day? In her debut novel, Catherine Menon traces one family's story from 1920 to the present, unravelling a thrilling tale of love, betrayal and redemption against the backdrop of natural disasters and fallen empires. She is interviewed by the novelist, playwright and critic Colm Tóibín.
A compelling family history reveals some dark truths in the tropical heat of Malaysia.
Mary McConnell grew up longing for information about the mother she never knew, because she died suddenly when Mary was a baby. Her brother Sean was barely old enough to remember, and their father numbed his pain with drink.Now 35, Mary has lived in the same house in Belfast all her life. She has a son, TJ, about to turn 18, who is itching to see more of the world. One morning, he wakes up to find his mother gone. He doesn't know where, or why, but he's the only one who can find her. This is a powerful coming-of-age novel and an intimate family study, examining the cost of unconditional love.
The author talks to Clover Stroud, mother of five children aged one to 17 and author of The Wild Other and My Wild and Sleepless Nights.
Two great young writers discuss their novels that explore the roots of racism around the world. In 1960s Uganda, Hasan is struggling to run his family business after the sudden death of his wife. Just as he begins to see a way forward, a new regime seizes power, and a wave of prejudice threatens to sweep away everything he has built.
In present-day London, Sameer, a young high-flying lawyer, senses an emptiness in what he thought was the life of his dreams. Called back to his family home by tragedy, he begins to find the missing pieces of himself not in his future plans, but in a past he never knew. We Are all Birds of Uganda, co-winner of the Merky Books New Writers' Prize, moves between two continents to explore racial tensions, generational divides and what it means to belong.
Sorrowland is a genre-bending work of fiction that wrestles with the history of racism in America. Vern, a black woman with albinism, is hunted after escaping a religious compound. She discovers that her body is changing and she is developing extra-sensory powers. Alone in the woods, she gives birth to twins and raises them away from outside influences. But something is wrong – not with them, but with her own body. To understand this, she must investigate not just the secluded religious compound she fled but the violent history of dehumanization, medical experimentation, and the genocide that produced it.
They talk to Sameer Rahim of Prospect.
Two great thinkers discuss liberalism, intellectual blindness and the dangers facing democracy today. Mario Vargas Llosa, Peruvian writer and 2010 Nobel Prizewinner, promotes liberal thought and pays tribute to seven authors who embrace it, in The Call of the Tribe. He talks to Michael Ignatieff, rector and president of Central European University in Budapest, author of The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World.
From the night she is rescued as a baby out of the flames of a sinking ship to the day she joins a pair of daredevil pilots looping over the rugged forests of her childhood, the life of Marian Graves has been marked by a lust for freedom and danger. In 1950, she embarks on a Great Circle flight, circumnavigating the globe. She crash-lands into the Antarctic ice and is never seen again. Half a century later, Hadley Baxter, a troubled star beset by scandal, is irresistibly drawn to play Marian in her biopic, a role that will lead her to probe the deepest mysteries of the vanished pilot's life. This is a drama of struggle and submission, of lives lived on the edge: two defiant women in search of an undefinable freedom.
Maggie Shipstead talks to Sameer Rahim of Prospect.
A woman known for her viral social media posts travels the world speaking to her adoring fans, her entire existence revolving around the internet – or what she terms ‘the portal'. Who are we serving, the portal asks itself. Are we all just going to keep doing this until we die? Suddenly, two texts from her mother appear: "Something has gone wrong" and "How soon can you get here?" As real life and the portal collide, she confronts a world that seems to contain both an abundance of goodness, empathy and justice, and evidence that proves the opposite. This is a love letter to the infinite scroll and a meditation on love, language and human connection, the first novel from the author of the memoir Priestdaddy. Nina Stibbe is the author of Love, Nina: Dispatches From Family Life. Her third autobiographical novel is Reasons to Be Cheerful.
Join the Children’s Laureate on location in Kingley Vale Woodland as she talks about the final book in her Wizards of Once series, Never and Forever, and one of the main inspirations behind the books: the magic of trees and woodland. Live Q&A follows.
Have you ever felt as if you’re losing your grip? Then you'll love Sally Parker, who's struggling to find the hero inside herself, when all she really wants to do is lie down. Her husband Frank has lost his business, their home and their savings. Their bank cards have been declined. The children have gone feral. And now the bailiffs are at the door. What does an ordinary woman do when the bottom falls out of her world? This is a life-affirming tale of failing, falling, and finding a way back up, from the comedian, actress and TV presenter.
Andy Bush is a writer, illustrator and broadcaster on Absolute Radio.
Two young people meet at a pub in south-east London. Both are black British and won scholarships to private schools where they struggled to belong. Both are now artists – he a photographer, she a dancer – trying to make their mark in a city that by turns celebrates and rejects them. Tentatively, tenderly, they fall in love. But two people who seem destined to be together can still be torn apart by fear and violence. Both a love story and a potent insight into race and masculinity, the book asks what it means to be seen only as a black body, to be vulnerable when you are only respected for strength. Caleb talks to the author of I Am Not Your Baby Mother. Candice's new book Sista Sister is published in July.
When Philip Pullman’s bestseller was adapted by Bad Wolf for HBO/BBC One, it was the biggest new drama launch on British TV in more than five years. Executive Producer Jane Tranter leads a panel discussion with key creatives from the show, looking at the joys and challenges of bringing the series to life.
How have poets imagined language and how do these imaginings help us understand an essential tool of literature? Hopwood is the only woman to have won the three main prizes for poetry and prose in the Eisteddfod, Wales’ national cultural festival. She has been Children's Laureate for Wales and was awarded the Glyndwr prize for her contribution to literature. Her collection Nes Draw won the poetry section of the Welsh language Book of the Year Awards, 2016. Mererid has been awarded the Cymrawd Rhyngwladol Cymru Greadigol Hay Festival 2020-21/Hay Festival Creative Wales International Fellowship 2020-21. Dylan Moore held the post in 2019-2020.
When an Antarctic research expedition goes wrong, the consequences are far-reaching for the men involved and for their families back home. Robert 'Doc' Wright, a veteran of Antarctic field work, holds the clues to what happened, but he is no longer able to communicate with them. While his wife Anna navigates her new life as a carer, Robert is forced to learn a whole new way to be in the world. The novel unpicks the notion of heroism and explores the indomitable human impulse to tell our stories, even when words fail us. A meditation on the line between sacrifice and selfishness, this is a story of the undervalued, unrecognised courage it can take just to get through the day.
Toby Lichtig is fiction editor at The TLS.
In a special event to celebrate the launch of the new Graham Norton Book Club podcast on Audible, sit down with the comedian, actor and broadcaster as he talks to fellow Irish author Marian Keyes (Grown Ups) and Pointless presenter Richard Osman (The Thursday Murder Club).
The poet Sam Riviere introduces his debut novel, Dead Souls, about poets, plagiarism, love, technology, feuds and affairs, cancellation and revenge, and how writing really does alter reality. It follows the course of a single night, most of which is spent in the bar at the Travelodge just off Waterloo Bridge. There the unnamed narrator meets Solomon Wiese, a poet who has been ostracized by the community but plans to return to the capital through the theft of poems, illegal war profits and faked social media accounts – plans in which the narrator discovers he is obscurely implicated.
Acts of Desperation is a darkly funny debut novel by Megan Nolan, about a toxic relationship and secret female desire: "He was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. None of it mattered in the end; what he looked like, who he was, the things he would do to me. To make a beautiful man love and live with me had seemed – obviously, intuitively – the entire point of life...How could it be true that a woman like me could need a man's love to feel like a person, to feel that I was worthy of life? And what would happen when I finally wore him down and took it?"
John Keats, who died 200 years ago at just 25, is one of Britain’s most enigmatic poets and this biography by Lucasta Miller, critic and author of The Brontë Myth, excavates the backstories of nine familiar works. The epitaph Keats composed for his own gravestone – Here lies one whose name was writ in water – seemingly damned him to oblivion. He took a battering from the conservative press, yet in 1818 he wrote, "I think I shall be among the English Poets after my death". A lower-middle-class outsider from a dysfunctional family, his energy and love of language enabled him to reach the heart of English literature. A freethinker and a liberal at a time of repression, his work has retained its originality through the generations.
In Bright Star, Green Light, Jonathan Bate interweaves the lives of John Keats and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The latter was profoundly influenced by Keats, using the poet's lines in the title Tender is the Night. These two great writers both died young, loved to drink, were plagued by tuberculosis and haunted by their first love – and were the young Romantic figures of their twinned centuries. They talk to Miranda Seymour, author of Mary Shelley and In Byron's Wake.