Imagine Ian McEwan, author of Atonement, performing a reading or participating in a panel discussion on a beach in a Maldivian island.
That is exactly what Hay Festival Maldives promises to do.
Famously described as “the Woodstock of the mind” by former US President Bill Clinton, the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts is among the most famous literary festivals in the world.
And for the first time, the festival is going to be held in Maldives from October 14-17 this year.
The festival is Europe’s largest literary and arts festival, which started in the sleepy village of Hay-on Wye in Wales – a village made famous for having the highest ratio of bookshops to inhabitants with over 30 bookshops for its population of 1,846.
Over the last few years the Hay Festival has gone global and now holds Festivals each year in Lebanon, Spain, Mexico, Colombia, Kenya and India, with the Maldives the latest to join the list.
Hay in the Maldives
“The Maldives has gained fame in the world for its beaches and the sea, with this festival we hope to showcase the 2000 year old rich cultural heritage of the Maldives to the world,” says Xiena Saeed, Hay Festival Volunteer.
At the press conference announcing the Hay Festival Maldives, Xiena said she hopes that the festival will help start a vibrant literary and arts culture in the Maldives.
In keeping with the Hay tradition of fostering the exchange of ideas, the festival will bring together local and international writers, thinkers, musicians, filmmakers and scientists.
An exciting line-up of local and international artists promise to make the first Hay Maldives a memorable one.
Confirmed artists so far include well known local personality and writer Ogaru Ibrahim Waheed, and Fathimath Nahula, film director and writer of several screenplays and books.
They will speak alongside internationally famous authors like Ian McEwan, and historian and biographer Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans and Mao.
With the growth of Hay Festival audience over the last 23 years from 1,000 people in Hay to 28,000 visitors on four continents each year, the festival is very conscious of the impact it has on the environment.
“In 2006 we started the Greenprint Project to audit our impacts and put in place actions to improve our sustainability,” says Andy Fryers, Project Director Hay Festival Maldives and Director of Greenprint.
The objectives of Greenprint are firstly to reduce the direct impacts of the Festival, and secondly to help the visiting public to reduce their own impacts, and thirdly, to programme debates, conversations and lectures, educating people about sustainability and stimulate action.
Andy says “the Maldives Festival follows similar lines to our other Festivals but with a stronger emphasis on the environment given the likely climate change impacts on the islands.”
This is reflected in the line up of environmental writers and campaigners like Montagu Don, Tim Smit – the businessman who founded the Eden project, the largest green house in the world – Mark Lynas, activist and author of several books on climate change including the acclaimed Six Degrees, and Chris Gorell-Barnes.
Musicians like popular band Fasy live and Mauritian-born electronic fusion artist Ravin,have been roped in to perform at the event.
As more artists are in the process of being confirmed, Xiena says “We would like to invite local writers and artists to get in touch with us if they are keen to participate in the festival.”
“This would be a good platform for local artists to showcase their talent and become known to a global audience .”
The three-day festival will kick-start with a performance of live bands at Carnival grounds in Male at 7:00pm on 14th October.
It will then move on to the presidential retreat island of Aarah.
“We will start the next day’s programmes after Friday prayers at Aarah,” says Xiena.
Panel discussions and debates will take place at Aarah for the next two days. This will be a rare opportunity for the public to gain access to Aarah, as it had been used as a presidential retreat since the 50s.
“Aarah was chosen as its a suitable venue near the capital, we want to ensure that it is easy for Maldivians and tourists to to mingle freely and celebrate the arts and culture Maldives.”
On the last day of the festival on the 17th, writers and artists’ workshop will be held in schools and colleges to encourage a new generation of artists.
Later on with National Centre for the Arts (NCA), which is facilitating the holding of the festival, Hay Festival Maldives plans to develop a rolling programme of workshops for this year and next.
Xiena explains that “The workshops will teach children and young people to interview their parents and grandparents, to gather and record legends and stories and experiences of life in the Maldives over the past century.”
The stories are to be collected in a huge online library to be launched at the second Hay Festival Maldives 2011.
A limited number of tickets are being sold keeping in mind the capacity of each venue.
2000 tickets will be available for the music show that will be launching the festival.
“1000 tickets will be sold for each day at Aarah, because that is the capacity of the island,” informs Xiena.
The tickets will be sold from the first week of September at NCA, and Xiena promises “the tickets will be at an affordable price for the locals, as we want a high participation from Maldivians.”
The event will also be marketed to tourists – at a different price than locals – however with the Hay Festival being a non-profit organisation tickets will remain reasonably-priced, organisers claim.
Hay Festival Maldives promises to be an exciting literary and arts event, the first major cultural festival to be held in the Maldives in recent times, and one not to be missed.
The participating Maldivian artists are currently being programmed, if you wish to be considered please send details to [email protected] If you would like more information about the festival please drop by the festival desk at Olympus Theater between 21:00pm to 23:00pm.