Just catching up with one of the Hay Festival sessions. This time it’s the wonderful poet Benjamin Zephaniah talking about his new book ‘Windrush Child’ (pub Scholastic) to Gemma Cairney. It’s always joyful to hear him talk – currently waving an ‘I love Birmingham’ mug at the camera. He says he’s seriously dyslexic and that being referred to as writer rather than a poet, makes him nervous. He’s keen to have black history taught in schools but also episodes of white history that needs to be told. ‘We are all told one story,’ he says, ‘it’s our duty to dig deeper and tell our own stories.’
His final words of the session are from an old Jamaican saying: ‘Each one teach one.’ If a slave learned to read, it was their duty to teach another slave to read.
Congratulations to Benjamin on being awarded the Hay Festival Medal for Poetry 2021.
This year’s Hay Festival kicked off last week on 26 May and runs through to 6 June. With so much on offer it’s impossible not to spend most of each day staring at a screen, or at least listening to the interviews.
My first opportunity to listen was Saturday 29 May with an interview with artist David Hockney, celebrating his book ‘Spring Cannot be Cancelled: David Hockney in Normandy’. This was mainly an illustrated talk – what else would you want from an artist – featuring a selection from this lavishly illustrated book by Martin Gayford and DH. Part of the discussion was around his ‘tree’ paintings done on an iPad during the lockdown – not sure anyone other than an artist of Hockney’s calibre could get away with producing these images! He has an exhibition in Paris coming up in September featuring a painting longer than the Bayeux Tapetry!
Having skipped over a number of other interviews I plumped for Stephen Fry talking to Peter Scott-Morgan. Peter suffers from Motor Neurone Disease. Faced with a terminal illness he to take radical action so that his diagnosis is negotiable. Using his skills as a a scientist he decides to combine his human body with artificial intelligence and robotics to become a full Cyborg – Peter 2.0. This is both a fascinating true story and an equally enthralling interview as Fry poses some searching questions for Peter who uses his personal avatar as the interviewee.
His book ‘Peter 2.0: The Human Cyborg‘ is published by Penguin.
The final session I managed was Malcolm Gladwell – author of The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, Talking to Strangers etc. speaking to Vanessa Engle. His book ‘The Bomber Mafia: A Story Set in War’ (pub. Allen Lane – Penguin) tells about a group of Americans who, in World war II, are convinced that precision bombing is the secret to removing the need for on-the-ground military conflict as we understand it. Precision bombing would eliminate civilian casualties, but knock out only key targets. Sadly this tale of technology and planning fails in the heat of battle. Gladwell, as always exudes an innate calmness in his answers with great thought and conviction. A fascinating story.
There’s so much more in each of these sessions I attended. Thankfully Hay enable you to revisit them with the following 24 hours.
For me, the highlight of Joe Biden’s Inauguration Day was Amanda Gorman’s rendition of ‘The Hill We Climb’.
Amanda, who is the America’s first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate, began her poem asking “When day comes, we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” The remaining 5-minutes was spell-binding, generating accolades from across the globe.
Describing herself as a “skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother [who] can dream of becoming president, only to find her self reciting for one”, she delivered an unforgettable piece of work. Not a surprise then that her poems are already trending on book sites!
Watch Amanda in action at the Inauguration here.