By FRANK BAJAK, Associated Press Writer Frank Bajak  
Associated Press Writer – Fri Jan 22, 2:32 pm ET  

Hay Festival in Cartagena for literature lovers

AP – FILE-This Jan. 27, 2006 file photo shows Colombian Nobel Prize author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, right speaking …

BOGOTA – Colombia's colonial port of Cartagena intoxicates the director of Britain's Hay Festival literary franchise, whose fifth annual gathering in the Caribbean city's walled ramparts takes place next week.

"The parties in Cartagena are lavish and joyful. There's something thrilling about dancing with new ideas in your head all day, then dancing with the world's hottest women all night," Hay Festival founder Peter Florence told The Associated Press.

Writers Ian McEwan of England and Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru headline this year's Cartagena festival, while Afro-beat saxophonist Manu Dibango of Cameroon tops the list of musicians drawn by the Hay event to this former port of entry for African slaves.

Florence founded the festival, which has become Britain's leading literary celebration, in 1988 in Hay-on-Wye, Wales. There are now annual satellite festivals in a number of other locations around the world, including Beirut and Nairobi. Florence said the festival would go to Mexico for the first time, in Zacatecas, in July.

"They're all exciting in different ways, but Cartagena is special," he said via e-mail.

The four-day Cartagena gathering, which opens Thursday and is expected to draw more than 500 members of the public, has its origins in living literary legends.

"Years and years ago we asked Carlos Fuentes how to bring Gabriel Garcia Marquez to our festival in Wales. He told us it would be better to bring our festival in Wales to Cartagena, which was a wonderful fantasy," said Florence.

So Fuentes, the Mexican author of "The Old Gringo," arranged for a meeting between festival organizers and Garcia Marquez, the Colombian Nobel laureate and author of "One Hundred Years of Solitude," whose muse owes much to Cartagena. Though he lives in Mexico City, Garcia Marquez keeps a house in Cartagena.

Garcia Marquez was "amazingly generous to his fellow writers" at the inaugural 2006 festival. "He came to events, he gave parties. He was as perfect a host as you could imagine," said Florence.

Now 82, Garcia Marquez isn't scheduled to participate in this year's festival, though he captivated Colombians earlier this month with an appearance at Cartagena's Fourth International Music Festival, which has proven another big draw for a compact tourist city with a growing reputation for haute cuisine in addition to hip-grinding all-night rumbas.

Some 90 writers are to take part in readings, conversations and workshops at the Cartagena festival, including Moroccan-born Najat El Hachmi of Catalonia and the Spaniard Almudena Grandes.

One of the Colombian scribes taking part, William Ospina, told the AP that the festival's allure lies in its intimate nature and the serendipity of chance encounters in one of the myriad cafes on Cartagena's cobbled streets.

"We writers normally don't have a very close relation, or rather a direct relation, with the public. So it's pleasant to encounter interested readers in the streets, the cafes and hotels," Ospina said.

Associated Press Writer Luisa Fernanda Cuellar contributed to this report.

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