Deborah Levy's Real Estate named Hay Festival Book of the Year 2021
Real Estate by Deborah Levy has been named Hay Festival Book of the Year 2021 after hundreds of book lovers nominated their favourite titles of the year online.

The highly anticipated final instalment in Deborah Levy’s critically acclaimed “Living Autobiography”, Real Estate is a thought-provoking and boldly intimate meditation on home and the spectres that haunt it. Following Things I Don't Want to Know and The Cost of Living, it is the final volume of a formally innovative and emotionally daring trilogy of memoirs.

Levy is also the author of seven novels: Beautiful Mutants, Swallowing Geography, The Unloved, Billy and Girl, Swimming Home, Hot Milk and The Man Who Saw Everything. She has been shortlisted twice each for the Goldsmiths Prize and the Man Booker Prize. Her short story collection, Black Vodka, was nominated for the International Frank O'Connor Short Story Award and was broadcast on BBC Radio 4, as were her acclaimed dramatizations of Freud's iconic case studies, Dora and The Wolfman. She has also written for The Royal Shakespeare Company and her pioneering theatre writing is collected in Levy: Plays 1. 

Gareth Howell-Jones, bookshop manager at Hay Festival, said: “Blending personal history, gender politics, philosophy, and literary theory, Real Estate is a compulsively readable narrative and a favourite among festivalgoers this year. The book was a bestseller at our spring event and we are delighted to celebrate it as our title of 2021.”

Levy’s Hay Festival 2021 conversation with Lisa Appignanesi about the book can be viewed free online now at

The Book of the Year announcement comes on the eve of Hay Festival Winter Weekend, which boasts 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 line-up to inspire, examine and entertain. 

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 Llwyfan Cymru – Wales Stage, 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 is operating a range of new procedures in place in line with guidance from the Welsh Government, with detailed information at

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 with closed captioning offered for all digital events. 

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.


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 talks BurntcoatJR Thorp discusses LearwifeElizabeth Day offers her thriller, MagpieChristopher Meredith talks Please; former Hay Festival Writer at Work Catrin Kean presents her Welsh Book of the Year-winning debut, Salt; and writers Kit de Waal and Jack Underwood talk to Salena Godden in 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 Kid, John 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 Up; Anita Rani talks The Right Sort of Girl; John 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 Harediscusses 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 Ages with The Five author Hallie RubenholdPaul Mason talks How to Stop Fascism: History, Ideology, Resistance; and broadcaster Jules 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 GriffithsKaliane 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, 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.

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 Widdecombe talks Watching Neighbours Twice a Day...How ’90s TV (Almost) Prepared me for Life

A curated selection of free, digital-only Winter Warmers add inspiration to the programme, bringing international writers into the homes of book-lovers everywhere, including conversations with winner of the 2021 Booker Prize Damon Galgut (The Promise), 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 Naturalist in 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.

Explore the full Hay Festival Winter Weekend programme here.