Looking for a smart, bookish destination this summer? Build a trip around these five great literary festivals, from Mexico to Prague to Brooklyn.
When President Bill Clinton called the Hay Literary Festival the “Woodstock of the Mind” in 2001, he was on to something. These days, literary festivals have so eclipsed their rock equivalents as places to hear the big names, to see and be seen, to pitch tents and to eat hamburgers (albeit organic ones), that it’s hard to remember what all that fuss over music was about. Authors are the new artists. Books are the new bands. Or so we think.
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The summer season starts this weekend with two very different kinds of celebration. The Guardian Hay Festival, held in the otherwise sedate village of Hay-on-Wye in Wales, is a 10-day hubbub of discussions and readings, featuring big names and big ideas: Martin Evans and John Sulston on the human genome; Ian McEwan on climate change; Nick Clegg—giving his first public presentation since becoming U.K. Deputy Prime Minister—on the Rule of Law. Meanwhile, the Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica, now in its 10th year, offers a more intimate gathering—three days of presentations by a small but select crew of authors, including Colson Whitehead, Russell Banks and Sudeep Sen. Where Hay is an industry unto itself, Calabash has struggled to raise funding. Where the Hay website induces mild panic (think of a schedule akin to SXSW), its Jamaican counterpart features one single list of events, gently spaced out over three days, and a picture of the director having a snooze on a sofa.
Whatever kind of groupie you are, it isn’t too late to join the party—as our list of the top five literary festivals this summer will testify. But before you book, remember: If you’re looking for somewhere to actually read, you’d be more likely to find a quiet corner in Woodstock.