Home News Reflections on Hay Festival 2024

Reflections on Hay Festival 2024

Earlier this year, we were delighted to welcome novelist Priscilla Morris to join Lord Paul Boateng and Elif Shafak at Hay Festival. Here, Priscilla shares her thoughts on the event.

Headset mics attached, last-minute questions answered, author Elif Shafak, Lord Paul Boateng and I stepped onto the Discovery Stage and took our seats. The audience, in their hundreds, receded into the blue-mottled darkness in front of us. There was the smell of trampled grass, the thrum of anticipation.

We were there to talk about the role of libraries during and after conflict, particularly relevant at a time when libraries are being intentionally targeted in Gaza and Ukraine. Our conversation was being live-streamed by the British Library and to other libraries across the UK. As an admirer of Book Aid International’s vital work and Elif’s inspiring fiction and human rights activism, I was honoured to have been invited to speak.

L-R: Priscilla Morris, Lord Paul Boateng and Elif Shafak

Paul, charismatic Vice Patron of Book Aid International, chaired expertly and with great humour. We soon discovered that all three of us had moved frequently throughout our lives and that libraries for us were homely places of stability and refuge. They connected us to our new communities and opened doors to rich literary worlds.

Elif treated us to the first public reading from her forthcoming novel There are Rivers in The Sky, in which the ravaging of the great library of Ashurbanipal in Mesopotamia is depicted.

I read from my debut Black Butterflies, where the central event is the fiery destruction of the National and University Library of Bosnia in 1992. As the flames roared in Sarajevo, a human chain of librarians and passers-by formed to rescue books from the burning building. The ashes that charred the sky for days afterwards were known as ‘black butterflies’.

The loss of libraries deprives people of so much – pleasure, a sense of their history and identity, a means of improving their lives, diversity of viewpoints, and a communal space in which to study and read.

It’s vital that destroyed libraries are rebuilt and restocked so that this loss is addressed, giving war-torn communities the chance to heal, understand their pasts and move forwards with confidence into the future.

Please do look into the great work that Book Aid International is doing to restore lost library collections in Iraq, Ukraine and elsewhere. I’d highly recommend Burning the Books by Richard Ovenden, Public Library by Ali Smith and The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel to reflect further on the intrinsic value that libraries add to our lives.

My heartfelt thanks to Lord Paul Boateng, Elif Shafak, the passionate library-loving audience, Hay Festival and Book Aid International for providing and enabling such an illuminating, thought-provoking discussion.

Book Aid International would also like to say a big thank you to Priscilla, Elif and Paul for taking the time to attend our event as well as to the team at Hay Festival. If you weren’t able to make it to Hay, the event is available to watch on Hay Festival Anytime.

Photo Credits: © Conor Horgan, Sam Hardwick and Hay Festival.

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