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Hay Festival: Michael Morpurgo
Children’s laureate Michael Morpurgo, author of War Horse and champion of the rights of the young, was speaking to a captive audience at Hay Literary Festival when he criticised the Government’s proposals to close libraries.
As an ambassador for Save the Children he took as his theme the Rights of the Child as declared by Unicef and subscribed to by the United Kingdom – and highlighted the importance of libraries as not only a tool for education, but in the wider sense that they underscore liberty and security when he gave the inaugural Library Lecture at the festival.
Introduced by festival director Peter Florence, who thanked librarians and welcomed library fans everywhere and especially the 86 people who attended in support of Herefordshire libraries – 46 on a library bus from Hereford. The group included library staff and users, readers, reading group members and some representatives for the Women4Women centre in Hereford who are taking part in an innovative scheme to help isolated women or those suffering from domestic abuse. The group is taking part in a project organised by the West Midlands Reader Network, in association with author Helen Cross.
Morpurgo – an entertaining and charismatic speaker – and vocal champion of libraries - likened limiting access to libraries as something akin to the book-burning activities of oppressive regimes and pulled no punches in highlighting the irony of a country that produced Shakespeare and Dickens not valuing its literary heritage enough.
He interwove many of his own stories into his talk and held his large audience captive – triggering laughter and outrage at his topic in equal measure. His question-and-answer session at the end of the talk provided some of the most humorous and thought-provoking material and his obvious empathy with the younger questioners underscored his popularity as a children’s writer – often tackling difficult and sometimes disturbing topics without ever lecturing or euphemising.
The respect I which he holds his young readers was tangible, while his passion for the written word and universal access to it provided the perfect material for the lecture which it is hoped will become an annual event at the festival.