Hay Festival Winter Weekend 2021 live + online programme released

Appearances from novelists Jeanette Winterson, Matt Haig, Siri Hustvedt, Sarah Moss, Sarah Hall, JR Thorp, Elizabeth Day, Christopher Meredith, Catrin Kean, Onjali Q Raúf, Lauren Child, Kit de Waal and the soon-to-be-announced winner of the Booker Prize 2021; actors Miriam Margolyes and Oscar-winner Emerald Fennell; adventurer Bear Grylls; broadcasters Anita Rani, Clare Balding, Fi Glover and Jane Garvey; theatre director David Hare; historians Simon Jenkins, Dan Jones and Hallie Rubenhold; classicist Natalie Haynes; journalists Paul Mason, Arwa Mahdawi, and Hannah Jane Parkinson; academic Emma Dabiri; mathematician Marcus du Sautoy; science writers Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford and Robin Ince; environmentalists Jonathon Porritt, Jay Griffiths, Kaliane Bradley, Testament and Vicki Hird; comedians Phil Wang and Josh Widdecombe; musicians Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason, Bobby Gillespie and John Illsley; BBC Music Introducing; and more…

Hay Festival Winter Weekend returns with an ambitious programme for its first ticketed, in-person events in the UK for two years, bringing writers and readers together 24-28 November with a programme to inspire, examine and entertain and a new Festival site in the centre of Hay-on-Wye. 

The full line-up is available now at hayfestival.org/winter-weekend with priority booking for Friends of Hay Festival until tickets go on general sale at noon this Saturday 2 October. 

Over five days, more than 80 acclaimed writers and performers will take part, launching the best new fiction and non-fiction, interrogating some of the biggest issues of our time, and spreading joy with conversations, candle-lit storytelling, comedy, music, and family workshops.

In-person events take place in a new Festival site in the centre of Hay-on-Wye against the stunning backdrop of the Brecon Beacons. Comprised of the Wales Stage – Llwyfan Cymru located on the Cae Mawr field (at the base of the town’s Oxford Road Car Park) and the Baillie Gifford stage in the neighbouring Hay Primary School, the new site also includes the Festival bookshop, hosting regular in-person signings, along with a food and drink court and exhibitors. 

Events will also take place around the town more widely, in the Parish Hall, St Mary’s Church and the Cheese Market, while the booktown’s independent shops, cafés and markets open their doors with a warm welcome to Festivalgoers.

To ensure the safety of audiences, artists and staff against Covid-19, Hay Festival will have several new procedures in place in line with guidance from the Welsh Government, with detailed information at hayfestival.org/winter-weekend/faqs. 

A vibrant online programme of live streamed sessions and digital exclusives will amplify the in-person events further, embracing the Festival’s new global audience at hayfestival.org/winter-weekend with closed captioning offered for all digital events. 

Hay Festival international director Cristina Fuentes la Roche said: “We’re back for our first in-person events in the UK in two years with Hay Festival Winter Weekend 2021, a Festival of inspiration and optimism to entertain curious minds of all ages. With an ambitious programme filling an innovative new site, it marks both a return to celebrate and a fresh start. Join us in a safe space to imagine the world anew and share the closing days of 2021with music, laughter and friends.”

Novelist Jeanette Winterson said: “It’s the time of year we need some internal sunshine and that’s what this is. It’s a place where there’s light and there’s warmth and a lot of fun.” 

Hay Festival Winter Weekend is supported by the Festival’s lead sponsors Visit Wales and Baillie Gifford. The free Programme for Schools and Beacons Project are funded by the Welsh Government and Hay Festival Foundation.

Dawn Bowden MS, Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport, said: “It’s such excellent news that we end the year with a return to in person events – while also delivering the online sessions. Hay Festival’s global programme is unlike any other in the way that it focuses on some of the biggest topics affecting the world today. While it showcases Welsh talent to the world, the new hybrid format has also afforded more contributions from the best international talent than ever before.

“I’m delighted that our sponsorship of The Wales Stage / Llwyfan Digidol Cymru has hosted hundreds of events over the last 2 years. Although we haven’t been able to welcome international visitors to Wales to enjoy Hay Festival itself - we have succeeded in showcasing Wales to international audiences.”


The Festival kicks off with a free Programme for Schools, 24-25 November, offering young people the chance to see their favourite writers, get creative and celebrate the joys of reading for pleasure, featuring events with Onjali Q Raúf (The Lion Above the Door),Emma Carroll (The Week at World’s End), Sally Nicholls (The Silent Stars Go By), Nicola Davies (The Song that Sings Us), Rob Biddulph (Peanut Jones and the Illustrated City), and rap-poet Karl Nova.

As mainstage events get underway, great novelists take centre-stage: Jeanette Winterson shares stories from The Night Side of the River and discusses 12 Bytes: How We Got Here, Where We Might Go NextSarah Moss launches her new novel The FellSarah Hall launches BurntcoatJR Thorp talks LearwifeElizabeth Day offers her thriller, Magpie; Christopher Meredithtalks Please; former Hay Festival Writer at Work Catrin Kean presents her Welsh Book of the Year-winning debut, SaltHannah Beckerman talks The Impossible Truths of Love; and writers Kit de Waal and Jack Underwood talk to Salena Goddenin a Royal Society of Literature panel on grief. 

Music rings out on the opening night as Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason discusses her memoir House of Music with performances by two of her multi-talented children; while later in the week Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie talks Tenement KidJohn Illsley talks My Life in Dire StraitsBBC Music Introducing... presents an evening of regional singer-songwriter talent, and Father Richard offers the silent German  horror film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari at St Mary’s Church with live organ accompaniment.

Interactive events for families and young people through the weekend include conversations, readings and workshops with Lauren Child (Christmas Elf) and Yuval Zommer (The Lights that Dance in the Night)while sports presenter Clare Balding offers Fall Off, Get Back On, Keep Going: 10 ways to be at the top of your game!

Inspiring creatives and household names share their life stories as actor Miriam Margolyes presents her memoir This Much Is True; local Oscar-winning writer, director and actress Emerald Fennell discusses her latest work; adventurer Bear Grylls talks Never Give UpAnita Rani talks The Right Sort of GirlJohn Barnes talks racism in sport;  journalist Henry Blofeld talks Ten to Win…And the Last Man In; broadcasters Fi Glover and Jane Garvey present Did I say That out Loud?: Notes on the Chuff of Life; and theatre director David Hare discusses his life’s work and new book, We Travelled: Essays and Poems.

The past is reimagined as Neil Oliver talks to journalist Oliver Bullough about The Story of the World in 100 MomentsSimon Jenkins talks Europe’s 100 Greatest CathedralsDan Jones talks Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ageswith The Five author Hallie RubenholdPaul Mason talks How to Stop Fascism: History, Ideology, Resistance; and broadcasterJules Hudson talks to local historian Peter Ford about his new book, Matilda: Lady of Hay.

Science comes to the fore as broadcasters Hannah Fry and Adam Rutherford discuss Rutherford and Fry's Complete Guide to Absolutely Everything, and comedian Robin Ince talks to broadcaster Natalie Haynes about The Importance of Being Interested: Adventures in Scientific Curiosity, while mathematician Marcus du Sautoy talks Thinking Better: The Art of the Shortcut

Hay-on-Earth events explore the latest in climate science and debate including Jonathon Porritt on his new book, Hope in HellJay Griffiths, Kaliane Bradley, and Testament on Gifts of Gravity and LifeDan Saladino on Eating to Extinction, poet Owen Sheers joins Trevor Davies to presents their climate change documentary The TrickVicki Hird talks Rebugging the Planet, and an expert panel led by Future Generations Commissioner for Wales Sophie Howe reviews the action at COP26.

Social affairs are drawn into focus as a Saturday morning panel of Festival guests review the weekend papers led by journalist and author of Strong Female LeadArwa Mahdawi, reflecting on the past year and looking ahead to 2022; meanwhile writer Jessica Nordell talks The End of Bias alongside writer and academic Emma Dabiri with What White People can do Next, and journalist Hannah Jane Parkinson presents her new book, The Joy of Small Things.

Spirituality and belief are explored as archeologist Richard Morris talks Evensong: Lives, Finds and Reflections on The Church in England and biblical scholar Francesca Stavrakopoulou talks God: An Anatomy.

There’s laughter, too: Saturday night is given over to comedy with Phil Wang, while later in the weekend Josh Widdecombetalks Watching Neighbours Twice a Day...How ’90s TV (Almost) Prepared me for Life

A curated selection of free, digital-only Winter Warmers will add inspiration to the programme, bringing international writers into the homes of book-lovers everywhere, including conversations with the soon- to-be-announced winner of the 2021 Booker Prize, writers Matt Haig (The Comfort Book) and Siri Hustvedt (Mothers, Fathers and Others), environmentalist Bill McKibben (The End of Nature), and Steven Pinker talks Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters.

Extra sparkle to live events comes from the town’s Market Square as a special guest turns on the town’s Christmas lights, Friday 26 November, in what has become an annual Winter Weekend highlight. And once again, the Festival will draw on public nominations to crown the Hay Festival Book of the Year following past wins for Dara McAnulty’s Diary of a Young Naturalistin 2020, Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five in 2019, Sarah-Jayne Blakemore’s Inventing Ourselves in 2018 and Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane’s The Lost Words in 2017.

Twenty aspiring Welsh writers, 16-18, will join us Thursday to Sunday for our revived, in-person Beacons Project. They will enjoy a tailored programme of inspiring events and closed workshops with Festival guests, while contributing to the Festival blog throughout.

And free Hay Festival Book of the Month events continue to celebrate great works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry with upcoming events including novelist Elif Shafak launching The Island of Missing Trees on Thursday 30 September; Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Powers launching Bewilderment on Thursday 21 October; and writer illustrator Charlie Mackesywith translator Mererid Hopwood launching the Welsh language version of his bestseller The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse – Y Bachgen, y Wahadden, y Llwynog a’r Ceffyl – on Tuesday 9 November. 

Explore the full Hay Festival Winter Weekend programme now here.