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Hay Festival 2021 Launches with a Countdown to COP-26

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Hay Festival 2021 goes digital with a programme that includes the Hay-on-Earth series with COP-26 President Alok Sharma

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The C&TH Guide to Hay Festival 2021

The 34th Hay Festival 2021 will bring writers and readers together from all over the world, with hundreds of free interactive broadcasts from Hay-on-Wye. And going online doesn’t mean missing out: although we can’t visit Hay’s lush green valleys and quaint shops and cafes, this year’s digital version of the festival will feature more than 200 acclaimed writers, global policy makers, historians, poets, pioneers and innovators from around the world, launching the best new fiction and non-fiction.

Hay’s free digital programme will run from Wednesday 26 May to Sunday 6 June, and we’ve catalogued all the highlights to mark on your calendar. Top of our list? The 22-part Hay-on-Earth: Countdown to COP-26 programme with the organisation’s president Alok Sharma, along with an impressive list of well-known researchers, writers and campaigners. Read on to find out all of our must-sees from Hay Festival 2021.

Hay festival

1. Hay-on-Earth: Countdown to COP-26

The run up to this autumn’s key climate change conference will be marked by a 22-part Hay-on-Earth series of talks lead by none other than COP-26 president Alok Sharma, along with authors, researchers and campaigners such as of Peter Wohlleben, Chris Packham, George Monbiot, Anna Jones and Imbolo Mbue.

C&TH Picks: Author of cookbook One: Pot, Pan, Planet, Anna Jones, talks to Stanley Tucci about eating to save the planet. (Wednesday 2 June, 7PM-7:50PM)

2. C&TH in Conversation

Hay Festival

Ed Viazey hosting the C&TH in Conversation panel at Hay Festival 2018

This year’s exciting line up will also feature a talk by Country & Town House on the future of culture and arts funding in Britain, as part of a series of talks under the umbrella of Reset: Our Post-Covid Future. Chaired by C&TH’s Culture Editor, Ed Vaizey, the talk will also feature Cultural Commissioner Neil Mendoza among other guests.

3. Gender Equality in Covid-19

Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates leads a series of discussions around motherhood and the ways Covid-19 has impacted it: journalist Caitlin Moran, data scientist Pragya Agarwal and activist Joeli Brearley join Bates to look at the growing gender divide; and writers Margaret Reynolds, Nell Frizzell and Donna Freitas talk to Emma Gannon about how our ideas of motherhood are changing.

C&TH Picks: Julia Gillard and Mary Ann Sieghart in conversation about Women in Leadership. (Saturday 5 June 12PM-12:50PM)

4. Headline Galas 

The festival kicks off at 8PM on Wednesday 26 May with the inaugural Hay Festival Opening Gala – A Night of Hope, featuring a selection of short readings by names such as The Duchess of Cornwall, Richard Eyre, Romola Garai and Elif Shafak, plus many more.

Then on Saturday 5 June, the From Women to the World Gala sees women writers and performers such as Kate Winslet, Vanessa Redgrave and Juliet Stephenson read excerpts from The Penguin Book of Feminist Writing and From Women to the World: Letters for the Female Century.

C&TH Picks: From Women to the World Gala. (Saturday 5 June 9PM-10:00PM)

Hay Festival

5. Get Creative

A series of Festival sessions encourage audiences to get creative with Sarah Raven (A Year Full of Flowers) and Carolyn Dunster (Cut & Dry); Robert Diament and Russell Tovey present Talk Art in conversation with Olivia Laing; David Hockney and Martin Gayford talk Spring Cannot Be Cancelled; Charles Saumarez Smith (The Art Museum in Modern Times) talks to Erica Wagner about the art of curation in our Eccles Centre Platform; and Meadow Arts presents a discussion between artists Tom Jeffreys, Alex Hartley and Anne de Charmant.

C&TH Picks: Russell Tovey and Robert Diament of podcast Talk Art in conversation with Olivia Laing. (Tuesday 1 June, 1PM-1:50PM)

6. The Best New Releases

Discovering the best new fiction is what Hay Festival is all about. This year’s edition sees conversations from exciting contemporary writers such as Brit Bennett, (The Vanishing Half), Ethan Hawke (A Bright Ray of Darkness), Lionel Shriver (Should We Stay or Should We Go) and Rachel Cusk (Second Place).

Plus, Graham Norton launches his new book club with Marian Keyes (Grown Ups) and Richard Osman (The Thursday Murder Club). And there’s standout poetry with Simon Armitage (A Vertical Art), Hollie McNish (Slug) and Creative Wales Hay Festival International Fellow Mererid Hopwood. Finally, critically acclaimed writers share their memoirs including Horatio Clare (Heavy Light) and Deborah Levy (Real Estate).

C&TH Picks: Graham Norton Book Club with Marian Keyes and Richard Osman. (Sunday 30 May, 7PM-7:50PM) 

This year’s Hay Festival runs from 26 May to 6 June 2021. See the full programme and sign up to events at hayfestival.com

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