Writers at Work

Wendy White is one of the members of the Writers at Work programme. She selects some highlights from her time at Hay Festival and reflects on the interesting musicians and writers she met along the way. 

How can I pick a favourite moment from Hay Festival 2019 when there are so very many to choose from?

This year at Writers at Work, I’ve met and chatted to the wonderful children’s author, Malorie Blackman, and quizzed novelist Michelle Paver on how to write a truly terrifying ghost story. I’ve laughed along with comedian and author, Natalie Haynes, in our Writers at Work tent, and created poems with previous national poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke. I’ve been fed a delicious main meal of all things literary. But there’s a stand-out ‘dessert’ moment for me - and that is seeing American singer and songwriter Ezra Furman on the Oxfam Moot stage.

Ezra had already visited Writers at Work to talk about music and poetry, and he sang for us a song he said would probably never make it onto a record. Its lyrics painted a no-holds-barred version of contemporary life, but somehow managed to be hauntingly beautiful too. We felt privileged he’d shared it with us.

That evening, when I filed into Ezra’s concert along with other Writers at Work, I knew it would be a magical experience. He’d already given us a glimpse of what to expect, and the fantastic music he made with his band, The Visions, was very special indeed. But what I hadn’t anticipated was the sheer joy Ezra is capable of generating in his multi-generational audience. Every face in the crowd beamed, from the very first song to the last. By the time he and the band left the stage, my cheeks ached from sheer happiness.

Ezra Furman undoubtedly has a wonderful talent for songwriting and creating music, but there’s also an extra special quality about him. What it is, I don’t know - but it transcends his performance and unites the audience. It creates a place where everyone, no matter who they are, can feel welcome and included, and joyful too.

Sometimes, a good dessert is as important as the main course.

Writers at Work is a long-term professional development strategy to nurture Welsh talent, writing in both languages. It runs during the 11 days of Hay Festival Wales. The project gives access to the unique gathering of the literary world at this time and exploits the publishing and creative writing expertise on offer for the direct benefit of professional writers in Wales.