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Hay Festival 2019

The annual Hay Festival of Literature & Arts has just closed its 31st edition. Founded in 1988 by Peter Florence and his parents Norman Florence and Rhoda Lewis, Hay festival offers to gather first-rate authors from all around the world in the small town of Hay-on-Whye (Wales).

“The principle of people gathering around a fire or a picnic rug to tell stories and share ideas is universal, and the intimacy of it plays around the world,” says Peter Florence. “That mixes with a curiosity about the world and its stories. Cooking, music, literature are all both intensely local and universal. We started our journey in Deia, Mallorca, and have adventured around the world from Dhaka in Bangladesh to Cartagena in Colombia, from Nairobi in Kenya to Arequipa in Peru.”

This last edition sold 278 000 tickets for events taking place over 11 days and welcoming an audience coming from over 40 countries.

This year’s programme included a fair few French writers, who exchanged their views about various topics ranging from cultural identity and heritage to the contemporary conception of history as non-linear.

Diplomat and former French ambassador to the United Kingdom Maurice Gourdault-Montagne joined architect Amanda Levete, professor of Medieval History Lindy Grant and travel writer Patrick Marnham to reflect on the blazing of Notre-Dame, its consequences on the international image of France, but also the core of patrimonial identity and the ways in which a nation's history is inscribed upon its landscape. The recent controversies about the restoration projects of the cathedral also raised questions of the essence of preservation and restoration, and of whether security should prevail over authenticity when it came to fragile monuments. As a specialist of diplomacy, Gourdault-Montagne could offer great insight into the role played by cultural diplomacy, and the importance for France to present itself as particularly respectful of its historical past.

Prix-Goncourt winner Leila Slimani appeared onstage alongside Philippe Sands, to discuss her best-sellers Lullaby and Adèle, which both explore domestic relations, the feminine condition and the themes of trust and betrayal. Slimani is the author of five novels, as well as Sexe et Mensonges: La Vie Sexuelle au Maroc ("Sex and Lies: Sex Life in Morocco"), a compilation of her work in Northern Africa and the Maghreb. Born in Morocco, Slimani was also able to evoke her dual identity and heritage, and the incorporation of this dual culture into her writing. She will be back in the UK on the 30th of June as part of the Shubbak: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture festival, where she will discuss Arab feminism. .

Éric Vuillard, who gained recognition with La bataille d'Occident (Prix Littéraire Valery Larbaud), discussed his 2017 Prix Goncourt winning book, The Order of the Day - a brilliant behind-the-scenes account of the political and personal manipulation and hubris that led to the annexation of Austria, plunging the reader deep into the claustrophobic atmosphere of a series of meetings that would determine the fate of European Jews and of the war. Through this novel, Vuillard confronted the limits of human morality and ethical action.

Last but not least, illustrator Axel Scheffler, who took part in our 2017 South Ken Kids Festival, brought together 45 artists from across Europe as part of the project Drawing Europe Together, a hymn to contemporary Europe and to the importance of coming together to create and celebrate our shared identity.

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