Hay-on-wye is located at the junction of England and Wales. Its geographical location is relatively remote. It covers an area of only 2 square kilometers and has no more than 2,000 permanent residents. However, it is well-known as the “World’s No. 1 Book Town”.
According to relevant statistics, there were 41 bookstores in Hay Town at one time, and most of them were pure and mainly bookstores, excluding small stores that had both books and other commodities. In other words, out of every 50 residents in the town, there must be someone who owns a bookstore.
The bookstore owner is the king, and the bartender is the ambassador
Hay Town was originally a border town far away from the political and cultural center. When the British book publishing industry was booming, the residents of the town still lived a simple farming life. Resident Richard Booth has been instrumental in transforming Hay from a farming town into a world-renowned kingdom of used books.
Richard Booth is a native of Hay town youth. In 1962, after graduating from Oxford University, he returned to his hometown, determined to boost his hometown economy through entrepreneurship.
At first, Booth opted to run an antique store, but the meager earnings didn’t get him where he wanted to be. However, in the process of opening an antique store, Booth found that the residents in the town loved reading and had a need to buy second-hand books, so he opened a second-hand bookstore instead. The business of old books is improving day by day. Booth persuaded a group of loyal readers and residents of the town to turn the town’s abandoned buildings, such as castles, old cinemas, and old factories, into unique bookstores.
Gradually, various bookstores run by residents took shape, and a “kingdom of old books” took shape. But at this time, everyone encountered a problem: the town is remote and not well-known, few outsiders know about it, and naturally no tourists will come here.
With everyone at a loss, Booth made a series of amazing moves…
On April Fool’s Day in 1977, Booth announced to the world that Hay Town would be independent, and he called himself the “King of Hay Country”. To this end, he established a “cabinet”, wrote the “Declaration of Self-Government”, designed the national flag of Hay, and printed currency and stamps.
Britain was in an uproar. Hay Town became the talk of the people overnight, and many media came to hear about it. While TV stations and newspapers broadcast Booth’s crazy actions, they also let Hay Town enjoy the publicity of various media for free. So far, Booth is satisfied, he has achieved his goal – to improve the popularity of Hay Town.
It turned out that all Booth’s actions were just a marketing campaign. It was a lie that he wanted to become a king, but it was true to build a kingdom of old books. He made a Hay joke to the world on April Fools’ Day.
After this incident, Hay Town was truly known to the world, and Booth’s own bookstore and many bookstores in the town became the biggest winners of the “April Fool’s Day joke”. Later, under the call of Booth, the locals successively completed the construction of more second-hand bookstores. The number of books in Hay Town is increasing, and the types of books are becoming more and more abundant. Visitors can even find Dickens’s first edition books, the “Bible” signed by the Pope, and engraved and printed albums from a hundred years ago. Hay Town has become a rare “Kingdom of Old Books”, and Booth has also become the “King” of Book Town.
In the following years, Booth often held various ceremonies to appoint and dismiss “book officials”. More than a thousand residents of the town were appointed. He even named his beloved horse “Prime Minister of the Country” and closed the bar. The waiter is the “Dutch Ambassador to Hay”. The local people respected Booth very much, and gladly accepted the “canonization”, saying that “it was he who created the miracle of this book town kingdom”.
Set off a cultural wave Hay Literature Festival and Philosophy Festival
After becoming the “Kingdom of Old Books”, Hay Town has attracted countless people to visit, and more and more activities have landed in Hay Town. There was a huge literary wave in the whole town.
The Hay Festival is a big event in the town. In 1988, a small-town resident named Peter Florence founded the Hay Literary Festival. Interestingly, the money he used to start the literary festival was actually the money he won from playing poker games with his parents.
In addition to the interesting origin, the original intention of the festival is also special, that is, “to bring writers and readers together”. The Hay Festival has been one of the largest national reading events in the UK since 2001, when the Town of Hay and the Guardian newspaper co-hosted and promoted it.
Before holding the Hay Literary Festival, the event organizer will solicit opinions from publishers, writers and public representatives to determine the most recognized contemporary writers or rising literary stars to be invited by the public. At the same time, the organizer will also invite other well-known writers at home and abroad to attend, and many novelists from non-English-speaking countries are also invited.
During the festival, Hay Town will set up a large number of white tents as temporary venues for forums, poetry appreciation sessions, writer meetings and concerts. Many celebrities from all walks of life have participated in the activities over the years. Paul McCartney of The Beatles once released the poetry collection “The Blackbird Is Singing” here; former US President Bill Clinton could not resist this literary event, calling it “Woodstock Music Festival in the ideological world”. “; Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was also impressed by it and left his own shadow here.
As a literary exchange event that radiates most age groups, the Hay Literature Festival has specially set up many activities related to children and suitable for families to participate in together. Of course, it is not limited to the literature forum, but also includes rich music performances and interesting children’s art projects. It is worth mentioning that the Hay Literary Festival is a purely non-governmental operation without government participation, so there is no opening and closing ceremony in the traditional sense. There is only a sign with the content of the activities that will be held that day. Tourists or readers can choose activities of interest to participate in according to their own preferences.
The literary festival is not the only lively event in Hay Town. When the literary festival is held, there are signs on the left and right sides of the entrance of the town. The right leads to the “Hay Festival of Literature” and the left to the “Festival of Philosophy of Thought”.
The English name of the Philosophy of Thought Festival is How the Light Gets In. This poetic name comes from what Leonard Cohen said: “There is a crack in everything, and that’s where the light gets in.”
The Philosophy of Thought Festival was founded 20 years ago by philosopher Hilary Rosen. Rosen believes that everyone has various thoughts about survival itself, but philosophy is often regarded as an incomprehensible, purely technical discussion. He hopes to change this thinking of everyone. Therefore, compared with the Literature Festival, the Thought and Philosophy Festival will set more in-depth and socially meaningful topics for people to communicate with. Topics include the universe, the evolution of the human brain, current affairs commentary and moral limits, and feminism. Sometimes, small groups of musicians and bands will perform on stage, adding a different color to the whole philosophical forum.
In addition, the Philosophy Festival will also hold a special poetry reading conference. Many famous writers, poets, and even stars in the entertainment industry will choose their favorite poem fragments for recitation. Poetry readings are not gloomy and lengthy, but can also be humorous and interesting. The famous British actor Stephen Fry once shared a short poem at the scene: “Mosquitoes/Rumble in my ears/Do they think I’m deaf!”
With the development of the times, the Literary Festival in Hay Town has evolved into a large-scale exchange meeting integrating books, literature, food, wine, comedy, music, art, etc., and the venue has also been changed to the larger Breconby Kerns National Park.
The dilemma of the times just want to be purely with books
The town of Hay, which went global with its books and literary activities, has become a tourist attraction.
When traveling to Hay Town, the place you must visit is the castle in the town, where there is the most special bookstore-Honesty Bookstore. The second-hand books of the honest bookstore are all neatly placed in the open-air canopy, blending with the ancient castle and the surrounding mountain trees that have experienced wind and rain. There is a mailbox next to the bookshelf, which says PAY HERE (meaning: pay here). The price of hardcover books in the bookstore is 1 pound, and softcover books are 50 pence. After tourists choose a book, they can complete the purchase by putting the money in the mailbox. The money in the mailbox will be used for repairs and daily maintenance of the castle.
Walking out of the castle and walking through the town, you can see all kinds of bookstores on the side of the road. Except for the collection of classics, most of the books are of good quality and cheap. There is also a 17-kilometer-long bookcase in the town for visitors to visit. In addition, tourists can also enjoy horse riding, mountain climbing, canoe rafting and other activities in the town.
The huge passenger flow every year makes the accommodation industry in Hay Town develop rapidly. It is hard to imagine that there are more than 130 accommodation places in this area of less than two square kilometers. But even so, during the festival, more tents still need to be set up locally to provide accommodation services to tourists.
While the tourism industry in Hay Town is booming, it is also facing some difficulties.
”King of Old Books” Booth was getting old and sick, he sold the central rights of Book Town to the wedding planner Elizabeth. Since then, the overall planning and layout of the book town have undergone new changes.
Elizabeth is not very interested in the second-hand book business, but hopes to make Hay Town a tourist town. She chose to seek the support of the government to obtain various operating discounts, and changed the lively castle bookstore into a blunt exhibition space and museum, and sold various peripheral products in the bookstore. The outside world has gradually realized that the original unique book town culture and the small town market that includes the world’s high-quality second-hand books are becoming vassals of various tourism activities. In the original pure bookstore, entertainment products have occupied a place. The strong commercial atmosphere makes many bookstore owners want to close their shops, they just want to be purely with books.
Fortunately, the influence of the Hay Literary Festival is expanding day by day, and it has branched out in many places around the world, which is enough to show people’s love for books and literature. At the same time, people also have expectations, hoping that this “Kingdom of Old Books” can remain pure and continue in the original way.