Arts & Entertainment

Literary event in New York pays tribute to hospitalized Salman Rushdie

By Javier Otazu

New York, Aug 19 (EFE).- An outdoor literary event Friday in New York City paid tribute to acclaimed Indian-born British-American author Salman Rushdie, who was seriously wounded in a stabbing attack in upstate New York one week ago.

“Stand With Salman: Defend the Freedom to Write” was organized by PEN America, a prestigious authors’ group that advocates for freedom of expression, and the New York Public Library.

The live-streamed event, which organizers said Rushdie followed from his hospital room, was held on the steps of the NYPL’s main branch, a historic building located just a few hundred meters (yards) from Times Square.

Paul Auster, Gay Talese, Jeff Eugenides and Siri Hustvedt were among a group of authors who read from Rushdie’s works during the event, but they also frequently departed from the script and spoke about their personal ties to and recollections of the 1981 winner of the United Kingdom’s prestigious Booker Prize.

The writers evoked the values at the core of Rushdie’s prolific body of work, pointing out his advocacy of ideological plurality, multiculturalism, free speech and freedom of the press, as well as his love of books and “celebration of life,” perhaps the phrase most often repeated during the hour-long tribute.

Around a dozen PEN America activists held up signs with emblematic phrases written by Rushdie, including “Art is not entertainment. At its very best, it’s a revolution” and “If we are not confident of our freedom, then we are not free.”

The most-anticipated speaker at the event was a black-clad Auster, whose son died of a drug overdose in April just days after being charged in connection with the overdose death of his infant daughter.

That 75-year-old American writer and film director said Rushdie’s work, like all great literature, expands readers’ horizons and fosters empathy with those different from them.

Irish writer Colum McCann, for his part, said that just as the world said “Je suis Charlie” (I Am Charlie) after the deadly 2015 shooting attack by Islamic extremists on the Paris offices of French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo, now is the time to say “Nous sommes Salman” (We Are Salman).

Iranian-American Jewish poet Roya Hakakian lightened up the proceedings by reading extracts of Rushdie’s 1990 children’s novel “Haroun and the Sea of Stories,” which tells of a teenage boy’s quest to recoup his father’s lost gift for storytelling.

The 75-year-old Rushdie was stabbed onstage on Aug. 12 at the Chautauqua Institution, a cultural center located in the southwestern part of New York state where he was to have given a lecture on artistic freedom.

He suffered multiple wounds to the neck and abdomen and also was stabbed in the right eye, right thigh and chest.

Rushdie was taken off a ventilator a day after the attack, but the injuries he suffered to his liver, an arm and eye have been described as “life-changing.”

His alleged assailant, a 24-year-old New Jersey man identified as Hadi Matar, has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree attempted murder and second-degree assault.

Rushdie has faced death threats for decades over his 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses,” which many Muslims regard as blasphemous and insulting to the Prophet Muhammad.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s then-supreme leader, issued a fatwa (religious decree) in 1989 that called for Rushdie’s assassination.

The author has lived ever since under the protection of police or bodyguards.

“The Satanic Verses,” a novel inspired by the life of the Prophet Muhammad that like other works of Rushdie’s contains elements of magical realism, has been banned in Iran, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and other countries.

The winner of the Booker Prize for his 1981 novel “Midnight’s Children,” Rushdie has lived for around two decades in New York City. EFE

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