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How the Hay Festival Gets It Right
Cece Helgesen, Almuneda Rodriguez Tarodo and Isabel Àlvarez holding the Spanish edition of How Women Rise at Hay Festival, Segovia.
The Hay Festival of Literature and Arts began 35 years ago in tiny Hay-on-Wye Wales but since has spread to locations in Asia, Latin America, and Europe. Given that it’s been described as “a Woodstock for the mind,” I was excited when I received an invitation to speak there on the main stage panel in beautiful Segovia, Spain earlier this month. Especially as the Spanish edition of How Women Rise was recently published by Ediciones Urano.
What’s not to love?
Unfortunately, I had to cancel my participation. I stewed for an hour– what to do?– but then came up with an inspired solution: I would send my sister Cece Helgesen in my place.
Cece serves as my marketing director, knows my books cold, and lives in France, which made getting to Spain simple. She also speaks Spanish and, as the founder and director of StoryJam Europe (think The Moth if you live in the US), she’s a poised and experienced speaker, who knows how to focus on stories.
Fortunately, Sheila Cremaschi, who heads Hay Segovia, and my colleague Marta Williams, who was moderating the panel, signed off on the idea, as did Julie Finch, head of all the Hay Festivals and a fellow panelist. And so Cece flew to Madrid and caught a train to Segovia.
She loved every moment and was by all accounts a hit with both festival goers and planners. She reported that the festival was beautifully organized, rich with intellectual depth, and drew a passionate and very international crowd, with attendees from all over Europe, the UK and Latin America– including an inspiring contingent from Ukraine.
She also noted that ¿Por que No Ascienden las Mujeres? (How Women Rise in Spanish) resonated with the crowd and promptly sold out. That’s Cece on the left in the photo above, holding my book with two attendees who themselves have ascended to the top of their professions: Isabel Alvarez, who founded a contracting business in the heavily male-dominated field of shipbuilding and metallurgy, and Almuneda Rodriguez Tarodo, a university professor and global Human Resources consultant.
“The Hay Festival stimulates your mind in a way that no other conference I have attended does,” Cece told me. “Not only are there talks, poetry readings and panel discussions on everything from the future of the book to green cities to female heroism in spy literature, but you somehow get into fascinating conversations with everyone you meet, and no matter where you are– on the street, in restaurants, even in elevators!”
Prize-winning authors like Arthur C. Brooks and Lydia Cacho give the festival international stature and the setting– Segovia– is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain and small enough to get around easily.
Besides sharing ideas from How Women Rise with a Spanish audience that seemed excited about the message, Cece said that two of the best moments for her came when she was suddenly learning about the role of the Tatars in the history of Crimea during a lunchtime conversation with author Andrey Kurkov, and later in the week, a storytelling production done at the Juan Bravo theatre called Historias de una Guerra, where each of 7 Ukraine correspondents from Spain’s largest newspaper, El Paìs, told stories about an individuals or a situations they had come to know while covering the war. The stories were accompanied by a stark black backdrop, projected photographs from the journalist’s own reporting and a talented violinist who provided a haunting musical accompaniment.
I’m so happy that Cece could was able to go to this event and both contribute to and get so much out of it. I’m more interested than ever to participate myself in the future, as it sounds as if the Hay Festival is not just good for the mind but also nourishing for the soul.
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