THIS year's Melbourne Writers Festival could be the best ever, according to outgoing director Steve Grimwade.
His big coup is the previously announced squad of visitors from The New Yorker, but the festival also has three keynote speakers - Simon Callow on Dickens, Germaine Greer on Australian English and Robert Dessaix (pictured) on the benefits of being older - plus a series of talks on big ideas.
But Grimwade says the festival still has plenty of its traditional fare - novelists, who remain ''the heart and soul of the program'', historians and poets.
So among the writers heading to town are Britons John Lanchester, Chris Cleave and Patrick Gale, Ireland's John Boyne, Nigerian Sefi Atta; Indian novelists Mita Kapur, Uday Prakash, Swedish crime writer Asa Larsson, essayist Pico Iyer, American novelist David Vann and Lebanese poet and activist Joumana Haddad. Grimwade says in the past five years festival audiences have become younger.
Thirty per cent are between 18 and 35.
The festival begins on August 23.
This year's Melbourne Writers Festival program will be in The Age tomorrow. Tickets are on sale at mwf.com.au from tomorrow.