Hay Festival is great. The process of choosing what to see? Not so much. Sifting through the Hay Festival progamme can be overwhelming, even intimidating. The A5 leaflet long enough to be entered in to the Man Booker Prize itself; page after page of dream dinner party guests, talks with titles that suggest they could solve the world in 45 minutes.
To make it easier, our writers got out their highlighters and put big yellow circles around ten events guaranteed to make you smarter, better or inspired. Probably all three.
Some are big names, some you may never have heard of, and that’s kind of the point.
DEEP THINKING: WHERE MACHINE INTELLIGENCE ENDS AND HUMAN CREATIVITY BEGINS
What: Stephen Fry talks to chess champ/our first line of defence against the rise of the machines
When: 4pm, Sunday May 28
Tickets: buy here
Revered as one of the finest minds ever move wooden figurines around a board, Garry Kasparov is more-recently known for becoming one of the few public critics of Vladimir Putin not to end up slumped over a dodgy plate of sushi. In his previous life as a chess grandmaster however, he became an ominous symbol of the power of machine learning, after he lost in 1997 to the computer programme Deep Blue live on television. He talks to Stephen Fry – STEPHEN FRY – about what that meant, both then and today.
REALITY IS NOT WHAT IT SEEMS: THE JOURNEY TO QUANTUM GRAVITY
What: red pill/blue pill stuff from physicist Carlo Rovelli
When: Sunday, May 28 - 4pm
Tickets: £8.30, buy here
The Italian quantum physicist is the New Hawking, apparently. He also ‘makes physics sexy’. Typical Italians. But Rovelli is more concerned about reimagining what we don’t know than exploring what we do – get ready for a talk which will bend the way you think of what you think is the universe.
Further reading: check out Wired's longread 'Quantum gravity could unearth the true nature of time', this TED-style talk from Rovelli, or go straight to the source.
SOBER: FOOTBALL. MY STORY. MY LIFE
What: Tony Adams on fighting a tougher opponent than Roy Keane.
When: 1pm, Sunday June 4
Tickets: buy here
An icon of 90’s football in this country, Adams was at once a player you would go to war with, and one who - whilst battling demons early in career - might just have been playing drunk. He’s here talking about his new charity, England, and presumably by then, his pick for the next Arsenal manager.
Further reading: this 2002 interview with Adams after he spoke to high security prisoners about his past.
What: Eddie Izzard brings his global show to the Herefordshire border for one-night only.
When: 8.30pm, Thursday May 25
Tickets: £33.30, buy here
Eddie Izzard will be returning to Hay (after 20 years) with Force Majeure, the stand-up show he’s been touring globally since 2013. It’s been updated along the way, of course. A display of comic genius from the multilingual comic with an impressively sharp mind, the subject matter of the show veers from language quirks to the absurdity of human sacrifice with, we can only hope, at least one mention of Mrs Badcrumble.
Further reading: something we stumbled on while looking back at Izzard's comedy career is this 1997 review of Glorious from the New York Times. A "waggish prodigy who simply can't turn the comedy off", they said.
THE TCS SPARK SALON: ALGORITHMS, FAKE NEWS AND THE FILTER BUBBLE
What: a much-needed debate about the impact of algorithms in a world of Facebook likes and privacy problems.
When: 9am, Sunday May 28
Tickets: £7.30, book here.
From the Monday morning joy of Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist to reports of right-wing billionaire’s funding big data collection for political gain, I’m starting to look at algorithms in a whole new way. This debate will explore the inherent tension between technology used to liberalise and technology used to restrict and control. Well worth your time if you’ve ever wondered who is accessing online data and whether artificial intelligence is on our side… or theirs.
Further reading: revealing stuff from Carole Cadwalladr for the Guardian in this investigation into big data collection and how your Facebook likes are being used for a new kind of political propaganda.
THE EARLY EDITION: THE NEWS REVIEW REVUE
What: Funny men and women flick through tomorrow's chip paper for material
When: 10am, Tuesday May 30 | 10am, Thursday June 1
Tickets: £7.30, buy here
Hay favourite Marcus Brigstocke - “not just Marcus Brigstocke doing everything again” my colleague said of this year’s excellent comedy lineup - heads a trio of comics that also includes Carrie Quinlan and Andre Vincent for a little breakfast time tomfoolery, tearing through the days papers for the sublime, the ridiculous and the Donald. Prepare to spit coffee.
What: The Big Man On Campus talks to Preti Taneja
When: 5.30pm, Saturday June 3
Tickets: £10.30, buy here
As someone who respects the Pew Research Centre, I very much enjoy any writer who can write “Motherf**kers from Harvard to Harlem respect the Pew Research Centre,” and win the 2016 Man Booker Prize for doing so. It’s the funniest novel to do some in years, so Paul Beatty’s talk will likely be standing-room only for book lovers and non-book lovers alike.
MACHYNLLETH COMEDY FESTIVAL @ HAY
What: a mini Mach showcase with comics Joe Lycett, Nish Kumar, Eleanor Tiernan and MC Kiri Pritchard-McLean.
When: 8.30pm, Monday 29 May
Tickets: £10.30, buy here
A “small but perfectly formed antidote to some of the more sprawling comedy festivals”, Machynlleth Comedy Festival in our neighbouring Powys boasts an inspirational spirit of experimentation and intimacy. Some of that will be on show at this gala night featuring some of Mach’s most loved performers including Birmingham-raised Joe Lycett, Best Show winner at the 2016 Chortle Awards.
Further reading: more of an action that a read, but get yourself to Machynlleth Comedy Festival (28 – 30 APRIL). You’ll find the full 2017 programme here: machcomedyfest.co.uk.
Above: authors Samantha Schweblin and Hari Kunzru
What: two exceptional authors talk about two chillingly good ghost stories
When: 4pm, Saturday 27 May
Tickets: £7.30, buy here
Long-listed for the 2017 International Man Booker Prize, Samantha Schweblin’s novel Fever Dream is a creeping horror, one of those incredibly imaginative stories you’re still thinking about weeks after. Alone at home, if you're me. The book explores the history of a woman and the boy who sits and her death bed and it's exceptionally written. Kunzru’s White Tears, meanwhile, tells of two ambitious musicians are drawn into a dark underworld in contemporary New York. Both books are fine examples of the modern ghost story and, at Hay, you can hear authors discuss how they’d brought the past terrifyingly into the present.
Further reading: The Sick Thrill of Fever Dream is The New Yorker's recent interview with Argentinian writer Samanta Schweblin.
Above: DJ Norman Jay
THE SOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
What: DJ Norman Jay headlines the opening party of Hay 2017. Dancing. Shoes. On.
When: 10pm - 2am, Friday 26 May
Tickets: £15.30, buy here.
I first came across Norman Jay - "pioneer in the international dance music scene" - at The Big Chill circa 2008, probably via Mr Scruff's Tea Tent. His legend was born at warehouse raves in the 1980s and this summer he's on the Herefordshire border to headline this Hay Festival party at Baskerville Hall. It's the opening night of the festival and party-goers are advised ot get their early. DJ Max Walker from local party kings SuperSonicDisco will be on warm up duties.
Further reading: the history of Baskerville Hall is rich, having apparently inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to pen one of Sherlock Holmes' most famous cases. There are puns-a-plenty (as well as some of that history) in this piece from Wales Online.