For a second year, the annual literary extravaganza that is Hay Festival is setting up its virtual marquees online to celebrate the power of words, and has now revealed the free digital programme for its 34th spring edition.

Over 12 days, more than 200 acclaimed writers, global policy makers, historians, poets, pioneers and innovators will take part in this year’s Festival, launching the best new fiction and non-fiction. It will interrogate some of the biggest issues of our time, from building a better world post-pandemic to tackling the compound crises of climate change, inequality, and challenges to truth and democracy.

The Festival kicks off on Wednesday, May 26 with the inaugural Opening Night Gala: a night of literary delights with a selection of short readings hosted by Natalie Haynes.

On Saturday, June 5, a special From Women to the World Gala sees women writers, thinkers and performers read excerpts from The Penguin Book of Feminist Writing and From Women to the World: Letters for the Female Century.

Pete Paphides presents Broken Greek and there's comedy through the week with Pippa Evans (Improv Your Life), Tom Allen (No Shame) and Marcus Brigstocke.

The Festival will launch some of the best new fiction with, among a wide selection of events, a special film screening by Ali Smith and conversations with Lisa McInerney, Lionel Shriver, Rachel Cusk, Ethan Hawke, Brit Bennett , Mel Giedroyc, Hafsa Zayyan and Marian Keyes in conversation with Graham Norton.

There's standout poetry with Simon Armitage, Hollie McNish and Creative Wales Hay Festival International Fellow Mererid Hopwood. Plus, critically acclaimed writers including Horatio Clare and Deborah Levy share their memoirs.

Author and poet Lemn Sissay co-curates a special three-part Festival series to mark the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's killing including a conversation between diaspora writers Maaza Mengiste and Aida Edemariam. In addition, a Still Breathing event features actresses Suzette Llewellyn and Suzanne Packer and athlete Colin Jackson.

Historians share their fresh takes on past events as Alice Roberts talks Ancestors; Sathnam Sanghera and Kehinde Andrews discuss Britain's hidden history and the Wolfson History Prize presents this year’s shortlisted writers.

Festival speakers will also be discussing the impacts of the pandemic and sharing their thoughts on our post-Covid future, among them Reverend Richard Coles, who leads an event on grief in the time of Covid-19 while Laura Bates curates a series of discussions around correcting gender inequality globally.

There are also events exploring the world of science and daily festival lectures in which thought leaders deliver headline think pieces tackling some of the biggest questions of our times.

Morning sessions for children and young adults feature Baroness Floella Benjamin, David Walliams, Michael Morpurgo, Cressida Cowell and Benjamin Zephaniah among many others and the annual programme for schools features performance poetry and timely tips on How to Change the World for KS1 pupils, the chance to get creative with Matt Lucas and join Robert Winston as he explores the world of science for KS2, and KS3 and 4 students will find inspiration in dynamic events led by authors, poets, illustrators and performers exploring important issues for young people to consider today.

Heather Salisbury, Hay Festival artist manager, said: “The support for Hay Festival over the past year has been overwhelming, with our Haymakers, partners, funders and sponsors giving us an incredible opportunity to reinvent what a Festival can be. This spring we beam our programme to you from Richard Booth’s Bookshop in the heart of Hay-on-Wye, welcoming writers, readers, thinkers and dreamers together from around the world to join our digital party. We’ll meet this moment of challenge and change with inspiration and vision, and place our trust in the wisdom of writers to guide us through. Join us.”

Explore the programme and register for free at