Hay Festival 2024: our guide to the top events at this year's 'Woodstock of the mind'

Hay Festival (Billie Charity and Hay Festival)
Hay Festival (Billie Charity and Hay Festival)

Hay Festival, the UK’s most prestigious literary event, begins today, and is boasting another stellar line-up.

Described by Bill Clinton as the “Woodstock of the mind” and by journalist Katrin Bennhold as “Sundance for Bibliophiles”, over 10 days Hay Festival sees literary giants, politicians, musicians, historians, economists, scientists and other leading thinkers gather to talk about books and share ideas about the world.

With hundreds of incredible talks, performances and panels taking place this year, from discussions about the galaxy, to reflections on climate change and AI, here are just a few of the excellent events not to miss.

Yasmin Ali and Gwynne Dyer talk to David van Reybrouck

Planet Energy

May 25, 11.30am

The kind of climate crisis conversation that doesn’t, necessarily, make your heart sink: Yasmin Ali, a leading chemical engineer working on energy, and historian and journalist Gwynne Dyer, who has interviewed more than 50 of the world’s leading climate scientists, talk about their books Power Up and Intervention Earth, and the awe-inspiring creative scientific thinking that is going to help the human race adapt to the warming planet in the coming years.

Michael Mansfield talks to Farhana Yamin

The Power in the People

May 25, 11.30am

Top British barrister Michael Mansfield has participated in countless high profile cases over the years, representing the Bloody Sunday families as well as the families of Stephen Lawrence, Mark Duggan and the Grenfell Tower victims, and Mohamed al-Fayed in the inquest into his son Dodi and Princess Diana’s death. Here he talks about injustice, persecution and corruption with lawyer Farhana Yamin, a key architect of the Paris climate agreement.

Tom Holland talks to Bettany Hughes

War and Peace in Rome’s Golden Age

May 27, 1pm

Historian Tom Holland, half of the world's most popular history podcast, The Rest Is History, is a scholar of classical and medieval history, and has published landmark translations of Herodotus’s The Histories, as well as number of best-selling fiction and non-fiction books on subjects including the Roman Republic, England and Christianity. Here he sits down with acclaimed classical historian Bettany Hughes to discuss the Rome of his 2023 publication, Pax: War and Peace in Rome’s Golden Age.

Theresa May talks to Samira Ahmed

The Abuse of Power

May 27, 2.30pm

Former prime minister Theresa May sits down with journalist Samira Ahmed, one of the presenters of Radio 4’s principal arts programmes, Front Row to discuss power, its corruption and its devastating impact if abused. As home secretary for six years and Prime Minister for three, May faced a series of dilemmas and tragedies from Grenfell, Brexit and the Windrush scandal, to the phone-tapping scandal and terrorism threats – which many people felt she mishandled. Here she discusses her 2023 book The Abuse of Power: Confronting Injustice in Public Life.

Paul Mendez, Irenosen Okojie, David Olusoga and Colm Tóibín

James Baldwin: Still Resonating

May 28, 4pm

James Baldwin
James Baldwin

American writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin’s writings remain some of the most powerful, beautiful works to have ever been published. Here, author Paul Mendez, short story writer Irenosen Okojie, historian David Olusoga and the Laureate for Irish Fiction, novelist Colm Tóibín, discuss Baldwin’s life and works.

Benjamín Labatut talks to Stephen Fry

The Maniac

May 29, 11.30am

The four books of award-winning author Benjamín Labatut, one of Chile’s leading writers, weave various sciences – physics, maths, advancements in technologies – with stories of insanity and disease, asking philosophical questions about ethics, knowledge, hubris. Here the writer talks to Hay Festival President Stephen Fry about his first book in English, The Maniac, a story about a leading Hungarian scientist, the architects of the early nuclear projects, and the dangers of AI.

Carlo Rovelli

The Pugwash Lecture: Relations, not Entities, Make up the World

June 1, 1pm

 (Getty Images For Universal Pictu)
(Getty Images For Universal Pictu)

Italian theoretical physicist and writer Carlo Rovelli, author of the million-copy-selling Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, has spent his career asking, and trying to answer, some of life’s exquisite enigmas. Frequently listed by leading papers as one of the world’s most influential thinkers, here he makes the case for seeing the world through relationships rather than as a series of individual entities, as is the case in physics.

The Last Days of Franz Kafka

With James McVinnie, Toby Jones and Julian Rhind-Tutt

June 1, 7pm

Hay Festival and London Review of Books mark a century since Frans Kafka’s death, with an event based on the ways LRB’s writers – such as Alan Bennett to Patricia Lockwood, Rivka Galchen to Adam Phillips – have thought about Kafka over the years. This phenomenal, one-off event will feature Toby Jones and Julian Rhind-Tutt reading Kafka’s later diary entries, plus music from Max Richter’s The Blue Notebooks, performed by organist James McVinnie.

Adam Kay

Stand Up: Undoctored

June 1, 9pm

Doctor-turned-author Adam Kay has published nine books over the past seven years, the most famous of which, 2017’s This Is Going to Hurt, was made into a BAFTA-winning 2022 BBC series starring Ben Whishaw. Undoctored, a stand up show that works as a continuation of This Is Going to Hurt, was a bestselling show at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, and hit the West End last October. If you missed it, now’s your chance.

Dylan Jones and Tiffany Murray talk to John Mitchinson

Rock Stars and Memoirs

June 2, 2.30pm

The Standard’s editor in chief, Dylan Jones, and writer Tiffany Murray discuss their memoirs, talking about growing up in the Seventies and sharing snippets of their remarkable lives.

Dylan Jones, a music aficionado, has not only carved out a stellar career as an editor, with a two-decade-long, award-winning tenure at GQ before joining the Standard, but he has published 17 books about musicians, music and culture since 1999.

Author Tiffany Murray has previously published three novels, which were all met with critical acclaim. Now she shares tales of her extraordinary life growing up with a Cordon Bleu chef mum, living at the iconic recording studios Rockfield.

Hay Festival Hay-on-Wye 2024, May 23 to June 2; hayfestival.com