International theme features prominently in programme for annual literature festival
Bill Clinton called it the “Woodstock of the mind” while Joseph Heller said it was like a cross between “an international conference and a country wedding”. This year’s Guardian Hay Festival promises to be no different with a diverse line-up that includes Pervez Musharraf, Martin Amis, Zadie Smith and Nadine Gordimer.
More than 100,000 visitors are expected at Hay-on-Wye this summer, where some of the biggest themes are explored over 11 days by some of the biggest names.
Announcing the programme today, the festival’s founder and director Peter Florence said Hay was the place to be “if you’re interested in the world and people, in love and death, in what is the best thing to do and how to be happy”.
There will be a strong international theme to this year’s festival, he said, with visits by Musharraf, the former president of Pakistan, and the Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor.
One highlight will be a discussion between the president of the Maldives, Mohammed Nasheed, and the current climate change secretary, Ed Miliband. Nasheed, who will, appropriately, be beamed in by satellite rather than flying to the UK, will talk about the environmental disaster facing his disappearing country and efforts to relocate the population.
The international flavour will continue with the long list of fiction writers attending. Florence said: “We need to be more like the premiership and realise that the best fiction writers are not always from the English-speaking world.”
For that reason there will be six new voices from Arab literature – Joumana Haddad, Adania Shibli, Youssef Rakha, Abdellah Taia, Faiza Guene and Randa Jarrar – and an appearance by one of the world’s literary titans, the South African Nobel winner Nadine Gordimer, returning to Hay after a 20 year absence. Florence said the 86-year-old writer was “hitting an extraordinary golden patch … She is one of the most articulate commentators that there is and her views on Mugabe and Zimbabwe are absolutely compelling.”
It is also a year, said Florence, when British writers are showing themselves as being at the top of their game: Martin Amis, for example, who will be discussing his novel The Pregnant Widow; Zadie Smith talking about her collection of essays, Changing My Mind, and the Booker prize winner, Hilary Mantel.
Antonia Fraser will be talking to Melvyn Bragg about her late husband, Harold Pinter, and her book, Must You Go? Other big names include Tom Stoppard, Roddy Doyle, Bill Bryson and Kazuo Ishiguro.
Florence said the often bizarre times we are living in, mean we need help from writers more than ever. They are, he said, writing with more “invention and imagination” than he can remember.
One of his personal highlights of the year has been the bestseller Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives.Its writer, the American neuroscientist David Eagleman will be at the festival.
Elsewhere, religion features heavily. Philip Pullman, who is still gathering headlines for his retelling of the gospels, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, makes an appearance while the Guardian debate will explore rationality with speakers Maggi Dawn, the theologian, and Martin Rees, the astronomer.
On journalism, the legendary former Sunday Times editor Harold Evans will talk to Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger about the glory days of newspaper publishing. Andrew Marr, John Simpson, Max Hastings and Christopher Hitchens will be discussing the latter’s autobiography, Hitch 22.
Florence promised a healthy wodge of history at this year’s Hay, not least with appearances from Norman Stone and from Niall Ferguson talking about his biography of the financier Sigmund Warburg.
The law will be another prominent theme with a keynote lecture by Lord Bingham and speakers including lawyers Michael Mansfield, Helena Kennedy and Philippe Sands. There will also be Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the former UK ambassador to the UN; Tom Buergenthal, a judge at the international court of justice at the Hague; and Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, a former foreign policy advisor to Jacques Chirac.
It’s not all writing. Florence said: “Hay is one of the biggest gigs for writers but also one of the most intimate gigs for musicians.”
This year sees performances from Beth Orton, Laura Marling, Malian musician Toumani Diabate, Christy Moore and the super-cool DJ Bonobo.
There will also be comedy from Tim Minchin, Ruby Wax and Shappi Khorsandi, the latter talking about A Beginner’s Guide to acting English.
Art highlights include Grayson Perry arriving on what an “art motorbike” while Quentin Blake will be conducting live drawing sessions. Photographer Don McCullin will be discussing his book, Shaped by War.
Hay, sponsored for the ninth year by the Guardian, takes place between 27 May and 6 June.