Hay-on-Wye was already well known for its numerous bookshops before the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts was created. Welsh bibliophile and bookseller Richard Booth opened a second-hand bookshop in Hay-on-Wye in 1962. His example was followed by other entrepreneurs, and by the early 1970s, the town had gained international recognition as “the Town of Books”.
Booth attracted further attention to Hay-on-Wye in 1977 with a publicity stunt. On April Fools’ Day, he proclaimed the town an independent kingdom with himself as king Richard Cœur de Livre (Richard the Bookheart, an allusion to King Richard Cœur de Lion or Richard the Lionheart). Booth transformed the local economy, making Hay a mecca for second-hand book lovers.
The inaugural literary festival in Hay-on-Wye took place in 1988. The event was devised by Peter Florence and his farther Norman (the latter funded the first festival with winnings from a poker game). Originally a small-scale event, it transformed into what Bill Clinton in 2001 described “the Woodstock of the mind”. The festival brings together novelists, poets, playwrights, lyricists, comedians, scientists, environmentalists, and other participants from all over the world. The organizers invite the writers and performers they most admire, trying to bring the most exciting new voices and the greatest contemporary authors.
Originally, Hay Festival of Literature and Arts was a purely literary festival that focused on writers. However, its program has expanded over the years to include film previews, musical performances, and other events and activities such as Hay Fever, a children’s festival that rungs alongside the main event.
The Hay Festival of Literature and Arts used to be a small local event, but it has since expanded internationally. Although the flagship event still takes place in Hay-on-Wye, sister festivals are held in other countries including Mexico, Spain, Peru, Colombia, and Ireland. Each sister festival has its own unique atmosphere that reflects the culture of the country where it is held. Each of Hay Festival events is a resounding success that attracts hundreds of thousands of book lovers.
Photo by Finn Beales