Thu May 24, 2012 - ReutersLONDON (Reuters) - For 10 days next month, some of the world's top authors and their readers will descend on a small town on England's border with Wales for a "Woodstock of the Mind" to talk about music, politics, the environment, but mostly about books. The Hay Festival celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, bringing Nobel Prize-winning writers, philosophers, politicians and musicians to Hay-on-Wye to showcase their work and exchange ideas with an audience from all over Britain and beyond.
For writers and readers alike, Hay, with a population of just 1,500, has a special place in a crowded festival calendar.
But for festival director Peter Florence, whose family was instrumental in setting it up, Hay remains essentially a "big clan gathering" and a deliberate attempt to spark ideas and unexpected connections in a "promiscuous mind".
"What the people have here is their passion and expertise. Writers explore every aspect of our lives, and books are traditionally how we both store and share everything we know," he told Reuters in an email.
"The festival just shoots off in new directions just following trains of thought. You never know where writers will lead you. They imagine the world in ways that challenge every previous assumption."
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who spoke at Hay in 2001, dubbed it "the Woodstock of the mind."
From humble beginnings - about 400 people attended the first festival - Hay has become a global brand, spawning festivals across the globe in cities from Cartagena in Colombia to Beirut and Dhaka.
Hay is built on books. There are more than 20 bookshops in the town, many selling second-hand volumes piled up in dusty basements. It is officially a Book Town - one of 14 across Europe and Asia that seek to make books a basis for sustainable rural development.
But it is not just the joy of rummaging through the shops or the eclectic nature of the programme that makes the Hay Festival unpredictable. Add to that the Welsh weather.
On the best days, readers loll on the grass with a book or sit in deckchairs licking ice cream or munching organic burgers. On others, local tractors are busy pulling cars out of the mud.
The year former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore came to Hay to talk about climate change, 2006, was pretty soggy but then so was the mythologised 1969 music festival Woodstock.
And while the throngs at Woodstock may (depending on the teller's recollection) have closed the New York State throughway, Hay keeps the crowds moving between the festival site and town centre with a series of shuttle buses.
Read the full story at Reuters.