Authors from 40 countries to attend literary event, with Alasdair Gray and AS Byatt among those unveiling new works

From the Libyan novelist Hisham Matar, whose father was abducted in Cairo more than 20 years ago, to Longitude author Dava Sobel and her work on the uproar caused by Copernicus, this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival, sponsored by the Guardian, is set to address the theme of revolution.

The festival, which unveils its 2011 programme on Thursday, takes place in Charlotte Square Gardens, Edinburgh, from 13 to 29 August.

Authors including Matar, whose debut novel In the Country of Men was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize, Pakistani writer Kamila Shamsie, China’s only Nobel laureate of literature, the exiled Gao Xingjian, and the Egyptian author and political commentator, Ahdaf Soueif, will be scrutinising revolution in the 21st century through a series of events which are being curated by BBC special correspondent Allan Little.

Revolutions past will also be explored, with the bestselling Sobel speaking about her book on the Copernican Revolution, Peter Ackroyd considering England’s tumultuous history and Melvyn Bragg talking about the huge changes the King James Bible brought about when it was first published 400 years ago.

“It’s how the world is feeling at the moment,” said director Nick Barley about the festival’s theme.

“It’s our response to the way the world is. These are very turbulent times… From Libya to China, India to Iran, the US 10 years after 9/11 and the recent controversies involving Twitter and WikiLeaks, audiences and authors in Charlotte Square Gardens will explore the power of the written word to provide a compelling commentary on the world around us.”

A stellar line-up of writers – 800 from 40 countries – will be speaking at the event. The author of The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje, will be launching his latest novel, The Cat’s Table; AS Byatt will give a sneak preview of her re-imagining of Norse myth in Ragnarok; and US author Sapphire will unveil her follow-up to Push, which was turned into the Oscar-winning film Precious.

Alasdair Gray, most famous for his 1981 epic Lanark, will give a full-length world premiere performance of Fleck, his re-imagining of the Faust story. Author Will Self plays Fleck – the Faust character – alongside AL Kennedy, Ian Rankin and Scotland’s makar (national poet) Liz Lochhead.

Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond will chair an event with Fife-born Iain Banks; Sarah Brown will be talking about life in No 10 Downing Street; Ingrid Betancourt speaks about her kidnapping by the guerrilla group Farc in Colombia, and comedian and writer Alexei Sayle will reveal all about being raised by communist parents.

“We’ve also got Michael Scheuer, the head of the CIA unit responsible for searching out Osama bin Laden,” said Barley.

“He resigned in 2004 because he thought George W Bush’s policies were too liberal: he’s a very hawkish American policymaker and it’s important we have a wide mix of views. He’s talking about revolution from an extreme right perspective.”

Four guest selectors, including Little, have been invited to curate individual strands of the programme.

The Time Traveller’s Wife author Audrey Niffenegger is looking at writing without boundaries through a series of events with genre-defying authors including Neil Gaiman and Kelly Link, while broadcaster Joan Bakewell is outlining the ideas she believes will define the 21st century with speakers including Richard Holloway and Michael Symmons Roberts.

The new children’s laureate Julia Donaldson, best known as author of The Gruffalo,, who is exploring ways to engage children in reading.

The children’s programme, featuring Nick Sharratt as illustrator in residence, will look at classics such as The Canterbury Tales, Twelfth Night and Tarzan from new angles. Contributors include authors Jacqueline Wilson, Patrick Ness and Robert Muchamore, Gruffalo illustrator Axel Scheffler and Horrid Henry creator Francesca Simon.

Tickets for all events go on sale on 26 June at 8.30am.

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