Writers from the Arabic-speaking world are given a prominent position in this year's Hay Festival, the highlight of the literary year in the UK, which takes place in the tiny Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye between May 27 and June 6. A former reporter for The National, the Cairo-based poet, novelist and essayist Youssef Rakha, has joined writers from Lebanon, Palestine and Morocco on the international line-up. Pervez Musharraf, the former president of Pakistan, and the Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor are also scheduled to talk.
Of course, Hay wouldn't be Hay without some British writing luminaries too, and there are no disappointments this year. Tom Stoppard, the multi-award-winning playwright who penned Arcadia and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, has been announced alongside the novelist Martin Amis, the literary superstar Zadie Smith and the Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel. Other big names include Bill Bryson, Kazuo Ishiguro and Roddy Doyle.
On announcing the programme, the festival director Peter Florence said that 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". As well as talks from writers there will be children's events, comedy, music and scientific debate over the 11 days. Devised by Peter and Norman Florence in 1988, the Hay Festival was described by Bill Clinton in 2001 as "the Woodstock of the mind". One hundred thousand bookworms are expected to descend on the Welsh market town, which usually has a population of less than 2,000. Hay is famous for its proliferation of second-hand bookshops: approximately one for every 50 inhabitants.
Tickets for eight of the events have already been released and are available through the Hay Festival website. Talks by Bryson, Stoppard and Mantel have already sold out, but punters can book now to see the His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman speak; and also to see another Booker Prize winner, Roddy Doyle, talking about the final part of his Henry Smart trilogy. Other hot tickets already on sale include a concert by the Cuban jazz ensemble the Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club, and a speech by the former Queen guitarist Brian May on his photography book, A Village Lost and Found. Tickets for all other events are yet to be released.
While fiction is one obvious focus of the festival, current events are also an important part of the programming. One of this year's highlights will be a debate on the environment with the UK climate change secretary Ed Miliband and the president of the Maldives, Mohammed Nasheed, who'll talk via a satellite link. They'll discuss the plight of the rapidly disappearing islands, and how they can be saved.
A festival wouldn't be right without some music to listen to at the end of a long day, and the alternative-folk prodigy Laura Marling will perform at this year's event, on a bill that also boasts performances from Beth Orton and the Malian musician Toumani Diabate. There will be laughs to be had as Tim Minchin, Ruby Wax and Shappi Khorsandi perform stand-up comedy sets, and Stephen Fry and Rob Brydon will also be making appearances.