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Hay Festival expands year-round events with online book club and ‘after hours’ city pop-ups

Hay Festival is set to expand its audience further this year with new events, live and online, supported by a new multi-year funding agreement with the Unwin Charitable Trust.

Free monthly events tied to the relaunched Hay Festival Book Club will begin later this month. Celebrating timeless titles that offer audiences a break from their day-to-day, Hay Festival Book Club invites readers to imagine the world through great literature. 

January’s selection – Wendy Cope’s The Orange and other poems – will be explored in the first of the free online events on Thursday 18 January, 7-8pm at hayfestival.org/hay-festival-book-club

Further titles to be explored through the first half of this year include James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room in February, Rachel Trezise’s Fresh Apples in March, Salman Rushdie’s Knife in May, and Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings in June. 

In addition, a trio of new Hay Festival After Hours events will take place in Cardiff, Bristol and Birmingham this year. Introducing new audiences to Hay Festival inspiration, the events will also open opportunities for regional collaborations among writers, publishers, and cultural institutions.

The first Hay Festival After Hours event will take place on Wednesday 13 March in Wales Millennium Centre’s Cabaret Bar with an evening of readings, performances and provocations. Worlds will collide in this unique event as a surprise line-up of emerging and established artists offer snapshots of their new work from a broad spectrum of subject areas. Tickets go on sale later this month.

Both new projects are supported by a three-year funding agreement with the Unwin Charitable Trust, which supports causes that benefit and promote publishing and the distribution of the printed word, and the improvement of literacy and the enjoyment of reading across the UK. 

Hay Festival CEO Julie Finch said: “Through our free Hay Festival Book Club online events, Hay Festival After Hours live events, and already packed programme of year-round outreach activities, Hay Festival inspiration can be enjoyed any day of the year by anybody. As a charity, we want to continue widening access to the important conversations and performances that take place on our stages. With this new support from Unwin Charitable Trust, we can ramp up our mission even further.”

Unwin Charitable Trust chair Merlin Unwin said: “The Unwin Charitable Trust has supported publishing, bookselling, literacy and writing programmes for 50 years. We are now delighted to be supporting the Hay Festival with several exciting new initiatives – the Hay Festival Book Club online events, Hay Festival After Hours live events, and other activities and events. I am confident that these will enable Hay Festival to expand its global audience still further using all the tools of social media and the modern online world, thereby introducing the charity to the next generation of readers, writers and performers. I wish Hay Festival and all who work so hard to make it a success all the very best.”

While these new event formats are just beginning, Festival events further afield are already in full swing. In January, there are Hay Festival editions in Jericó, Medellín and Cartagena, Colombia, and Panama City, followed by Hay Forum Seville in Spain next March. Closer to home, Hay Festival Scribblers Tour takes writers direct to schools across Wales in free events, January and February. 

And at the end of last year, Hay Festival announced 30 earlybird events for its next UK edition, 23 May-2 June 2024, offering a promise of fresh thinking, dynamic performances, and diverse voices accessible to all. Confirmed speakers include novelists Colm Tóibín, Marlon James, Jeanette Winterson and Andrey Kurkov; environmentalist George Monbiot; podcaster Rory Stewart; comedians Julian Clary and Sara Pascoe; poet Hollie McNish; musician Jools Holland; and actors Miriam Margolyes and Lenny Henry.

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