Page last updated at 13:41 GMT, Thursday, 11 June 2009 14:41 UK

'Smear' row poet to open festival

Ruth Padel
Ruth Padel's great great grandfather was Charles Darwin

A poet who resigned from a prestigious post over an alleged smear campaign against a rival is to open this year's Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Ruth Padel is to speak about her great great grandfather Charles Darwin.

She is among writers and politicians from 45 different countries taking part in the festival from 15-31 August.

Professor Padel became the first woman to be Oxford University professor of poetry last month, but stepped down nine days later following controversy.

She admitted e-mailing journalists highlighting allegations already made against her main rival during the run-up to the election.

Derek Walcott, 79, and former favourite for the job, withdrew after Oxford academics received up to 100 anonymous letters which reportedly detailed an allegation of sexual harassment.

Scots are an argumentative race, but it is not all contrariness
Richard Holloway
Edinburgh International Book Festival

Prof Padel denied being involved in any campaign, but admitted she had been "naive and silly" by sending e-mails.

Another leading poet speaking on the festival's opening day is the UK's first female Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

Other British writers appearing during the course of the event include William Boyd, Ian Rankin, Irvine Welsh and Alexander McCall Smith.

The fields of science and cooking will also be represented, with Professor Richard Dawkins and Michelin-starred chef Tom Kitchin among those on the programme.

Many writers will explore the theme of Charles Darwin as this year marks the bicentenary of his birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his seminal work On the Origin of Species.

There will be a host of foreign writers, including Canadian author Margaret Atwood who plans to launch her new novel at the festival.

Garrison Keillor, from the US, is to speak about his Lake Wobegon series.

David Simon and Richard Price, the writers of hit TV series The Wire, will be speaking too.

There will also be a focus on Sweden, with a dozen of the country's best contemporary authors on the programme, including internationally renowned crime writer Henning Mankell.

Other speakers come from as far afield as Egypt, China and Burma.

Important issues

Richard Holloway, chair of the Scottish Arts Council, is 2009 guest director of the festival.

Director Catherine Lockerbie is currently on medical leave.

Mr Holloway will chair a series of evening debates on subjects including Islam, the economic crisis and social equality.

He said the festival would provide opportunities to address important issues.

Mr Holloway said: "Scots are an argumentative race, but it is not all contrariness.

"We have learned during our turbulent history that ideas are dangerous things that need to be tested again and again in debate if they are to enhance rather than enchain the human community.

"We are proud of the fact that, once again, the Edinburgh International Book Festival will provide an arena for proposing and challenging ideas on science, religion, politics, and just about anything else that matters to the health of society."

As it is Scotland's Year of Homecoming, a Celebrating Scotland strand will run through the festival, examining the country's history, literature, culture and society and Robert Burns.

Mike Russell, minister for culture, said: "The line-up for this year's book festival is truly impressive with Edinburgh yet again playing host to a plethora of literary talent from home and abroad."

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