Meet the Haymaker – Cristina Fuentes La Roche

Our monthly 'Meet the Haymaker' series shares stories of the change-makers at the heart of Hay Festival Global and the impact it has had on their lives. This month, get to know our international director, Cristina Fuentes La Roche, who leads annual Festival editions in Colombia, Mexico, Peru and the USA, plus education and outreach projects including Hay Joven, Hay Communitario, Hay Festivalito and our upcoming collaboration with NBO Litfest in Kenya.

What does Hay Festival mean to you?

On the one hand, I hope, it means the same as to many others: a unique space that celebrates great literature, promotes ideas to explore the world we live in and a space that fosters diversity. For me, it represents a great quest, a collaborative project where we convince many people and organisations to build and support a common good: a safe space to rethink the world. We are about to celebrate our 20th anniversary of Hay Festival Global in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, and it is a moment to thank all those individuals, private and public funders who has walked alongside us all these years, and a moment to look to the future.

What’s your favourite Festival memory?

I have so many! One very special moment that comes to mind is when the novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie participated in the outreach programme of Hay Festival Cartagena de Indias in the barrios of the city. She spoke powerfully to the audience – many Afro-Colombians – racism, the power of hair. And she danced with youngsters finding and connecting with that bit of Africa in Colombia. That was very special.

Have you ever changed your mind on something having been to a Hay Festival event?

Yes! Not only changed my mind but had it expanded to find new angles to old problems. I think this is one of the wonders of Hay Festival Global: it is a space to discuss the complexity of reality and offers an antidote to polarisation.

Who was the best speaker or performer you saw on a Hay Festival stage?

How can I choose?!! The events I enjoyed most are the panels where we gather thinkers from different disciplines to discuss an issue that matters to us all. In our societies, we have artificially separated the areas of knowledge and it is great when we bring them together so we see things from truly different and complementary angles. And the magic of these panels are that they are unique: they depend on the mix of thinkers, the moderator, the questions from the public, and they can never be repeated.

What advice do you have for a first-timer at the Festival?

Listen to your favourite artists and thinkers, but also take a risk and go to listen to someone new. The programme is not for experts nor only for readers; it is for everyone with curiosity. I would encourage them to open new doors!

Sum up Hay Festival in five words or less…

Empathic, courageous, fun, diverse, collective.