Our city’s vibrant celebration of the written word returns with an eclectic programme – here’s what’s in store…
Literary luminary Zadie Smith, the brilliant mind behind novels like White Teeth and On Beauty, will open the festival with a preview event on Tuesday 22 November. One of the most pre-eminent writers to emerge this century, the Cambridge University alumna (above) is promoting the release of her latest book Swing Time; a story of “two brown girls who dream of being dancers”.
In typical Smith fashion, the novel conjures a vividly imagined cast of characters and uses them as a prism through which to explore themes of class, race and relationships.
Another leading light of female literature, Ali Smith will be welcomed back to the festival this year at an event on 27 November. A Cambridge dweller and festival regular, Smith will be discussing her new novel Autumn, which was released last month.
Beginning “It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times”, the novel is set just after the EU referendum, presenting an instantly recognisable tableau of a country in turmoil.
Smith deftly weaves current news stories into her narrative in such a way that the novel is imbued with an uncanny sense of immediacy – acting as a timely chronicle of this particular, politically astounding, moment in history.
Deborah Levy, author of the acclaimed Hot Milk, will also make an appearance, along with literary heroines Margaret Drabble and Penelope Lively (right).
If historical fiction is your bag, be sure to catch Sarah Perry, writer of the spellbinding Essex Serpent, and Francis Spufford, who released his debut Golden Hill to great acclaim this summer.
On the 26th, Everyday Sexism Project founder Laura Bates will introduce her new book Girl Up: a funny, patriarchy-smashing appraisal of the complexities of sex, relationships, false representations in the media and the pressures surrounding body image.
Also flying the flag for females at the festival will be Jenni Murray, presenter of Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour since 1987. In discussion with Herstory founder Alice Wroe, she’ll be delving into her book A History of Britain in 21 Women, which offers portraits of some of history’s most fearless, inspiring women, from Boadicea to Emmeline Pankhurst.
Also on the 26th – 18 days after the presidential election – Gary Younge will be looking at the issue of gun violence in the US. His book, Another Day in the Death of America, tells the heart-wrenching stories of families affected by the gun deaths on a single day.
Those with a penchant for politics can enjoy an evening with Ken Clarke, in which the controversial Conservative MP will offer intriguing insights into his 46 years in parliament. Also lifting the lid on the goings-on at Westminster will be Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who provides staggering details of vast sums of wasted money by successive governments.
Political biographer Alan Johnson will also be making an appearance, offering a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a constituency MP and promising to show you a never-before-seen side of Westminster.
Little book lovers
Get your brood into the Christmas spirit at the festival’s children’s events, both of which have a festive twist.
Blue Peter Book Award winner Matt Haig (right) will be sharing his wintry tale The Girl Who Saved Christmas, in which young Amelia has to dig deep to help Santa save Christmas, while Robin Stevens will be reading from Mistletoe and Murder.
An Agatha-Christie-meets-Enid-Blyton style novel, the book won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. If you need an extra incentive – all kids will receive a scrumptiously sticky Fitzbillies Chelsea bun to enjoy at the event.
Local murder mystery doyenne Sophie Hannah (left) will go head to head with fellow Cambridge crime writer Jill Dawson on 26 November, in a debate which promises to be unmissable for fans of the genre. The matter up for discussion? Who truly deserves the title of Queen of Crime: Patricia Highsmith or Agatha Christie?
From murder to Marx, join Cambridge resident and eminent historian Gareth Stedman Jones as he discusses his towering biography of a man whose ideas shaped the entire course of modern history. Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion offers an account of the Das Kapital author’s life and times, which has been praised as both illuminating and thoroughly original.
Partial to poetry? You’ll be spoiled for choice at this year’s festival, which kicks off with a visit from London Olympics 2012 official poet Lemn Sissay (right) on 26 November.
One of the nation’s most exciting and versatile poets, he’ll be telling his own story and giving readings from his much-awaited collection Gold from the Stone.
Enjoy excerpts from the Bard of Barnsley as Ian McMillan (left) delights with readings from his latest collection, or settle into the atmospheric Round Church to hear Ruth Padel’s narrative festive poem Tidings.
There’s also musical entertainment from incandescent local singing collective We Are Sound, who’ll be closing the festival in their own inimitable style on the 27th.