Hay Inspiration!

By Luke Barnes February 7, 2020

Historian Bettany Hughes said she was struck by Latin authors’ subtle approach to memory and trauma.

British writer Bettany Hughes. Photo: Paul Musso

The Hay Festival in Colombia wrapped up as a roaring success. More than 62,000 guests attended over 200 events across the country. Most of the action took place in Cartagena, where some of the world’s most prominent authors, poets, activists and scientists gathered to discuss topics ranging from climate change to the state of leftwing politics in Latin America.

Among those invited was renowned British historian Bettany Hughes, who has spent the last 25 years uncovering the classical past. Her most recent book, Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities, outlines the transformation the Turkish capital has gone through over the centuries.

Hughes has also spent nearly a decade tracing the complex origins of the goddess Venus (or Aphrodite). She presented a talk on the topic at this weekend’s Hay Festival and was highly impressed by the audience.

“I have to say I was asked some of the most pertinent and eloquent questions I’ve been asked in over my 20-year career as an author,” Hughes told The Bogotá Post.

Hughes has attended several Hay Festivals in Wales, but the event in Cartagena was her first time in Latin America.

Related: This was 2020 Hay Festival in Cartagena

“I’ve read so much literature from the region and I have visions of the place in my head,” Hughes said. “I’m always inspired and enlightened by the levels of intellectual, cultural, emotional and social engagement at these events.”   

Hughes had the chance to closely read several Latin American authors when she chaired last year’s prestigious Man Booker International Prize. “[I was] struck by the subtlety with which authors are talking about memory and trauma across generations,” Hughes said. “Many of the works were unbearably moving – but with a key light of hope.”

One of the events at Hay which focused on trauma, but also hope, was the Storytelling for Peace Building project. The project, a collaboration between the British Council, the PLAN foundation and Poliedro, helps children and young people open up about the effects the decades-old armed conflict has had on them.   

“This project’s objective is to strengthen the narrative and communicative capacities of children and young people affected by the conflict,” Catalina Melo, arts manager for the British Council in Colombia, previously told The Bogotá Post. “It gives them the tools to empower themselves and help with the peace process in their territories.

This year was the fifteenth anniversary of the Hay Festival in Cartagena. Other notable guests included Brazilian ex-president Dilma Rousseff, Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz and Canadian author Margaret Atwood.  

“In this volatile world in which we live… there exists a place where we can ask questions calmly and seriously, where we can reflect,” Hay Festival América director Cristina Fuentes La Roche said, describing the Hay Festival initially. “[It’s a place] where we can find the time to be together, to create connections for other people and imagine the world as a better place for future generations.”