Salman Rushdie makes first in-person appearance since stabbing, honored at PEN America gala
Salman Rushdie made an emotional and unexpected return to public life Thursday night, attending PEN America’s annual gala and giving the event’s closing speech as he accepted a special prize, the PEN Centennial Courage Award, just nine months after repeated stabbings. After going and being hospitalized. .
“It’s good to come back – as opposed to not coming back, which was also a possibility. I’m glad the dice were rolled that way,” Rushdie, 75, told hundreds of people gathered at the American Museum of Natural History, where he received a standing ovation.
It was his first in-person appearance at a public event since he was attacked last August while on stage at a literary festival in Western New York.
Rushdie, whose attendance was not previously announced, spoke briefly, dedicating some of his remarks to those who came to his aid at the Chautauqua Institute, a nonprofit education and retreat center. He cited a fellow attendee, Henry Reiss of the City of Asylum Project in Pittsburgh, for tackling the attacker and thanked audience members who also stepped in.
“I accept this award, therefore, on behalf of all those who came to my rescue. I was the target that day, but they were the heroes. The courage, that day, was all theirs, and I thank them for saving my life,” he said.
“And I have one last thing to add. It is this: horror should not frighten us. Violence cannot stop us. La lutte continued. will continue continuously. The struggle continues.”
Fears of attacks against Rushdie date back to the late 1980s and the publication of his novel “The Satanic Verses”, which was condemned as blasphemous by Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini for passages referring to the Prophet Muhammad.
The Ayatollah issued a decree demanding Rushdie’s death, forcing the author into hiding, although he had been traveling freely for years before he was stabbed.
Since then he has given few interviews and otherwise interacted and prepared comments through his Twitter account.
Earlier this week, he delivered a video message to the British Book Awards, where he was awarded the freedom to publish prize.
Rushdie was clearly happy to attend the gala, but his voice was weaker than ever and the right frame of his glasses was dark, hiding the eye blinded by his attacker.
PEN galas have long been a fusion of literature, politics, activism and celebrity, with attendees from Alec Baldwin to Sen. Angus King of Maine. Other honorees Thursday included “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels and jailed Iranian journalist and activist Narges Mohammadi, who were given the PEN/Barbe Freedom to Write Award.
“Dear writers, thinkers and sympathizers, I beg you to help the Iranian people free themselves from the grip of the Islamic Republic, or morally, please help the Iranian people end their suffering, ” Mohammadi wrote in a letter he read from prison. Loud in concert. “Let us prove the magic of global unity against the authorities full of power and greed.”
The host Thursday night was “Saturday Night Live” head writer Colin Jost, who inspired nervous laughter with a joke about the risks of being in the same room as Rushdie, comparing it to sharing a balcony section with Abraham Lincoln.
He also briefly referenced the Hollywood writers’ strike, which has taken “Saturday Night Live” off the air since early May, saying that spending the afternoon on a picket line and then “for a museum cocktail hour.” Showing off was “inheriting.” “
PEN events are familiar settings for Rushdie, a former president of PEN, the literary rights organization for which free speech is a core mission.
He has attended several times in the past and is a co-founder of PEN’s World Voices Festival, an international gathering of author panels and interviews held around the time of the PEN Gala.
Rushdie’s surprise appearance was the highlight of an important month for PEN, an institution of literary and free expression that has been in the midst of various conflicts – by election and otherwise.
On Wednesday, PEN and Penguin Random House sued a Florida school district for removing books about race and LGBTQ+ identities.
Earlier in the week, writer Masha Gessen revealed that she had resigned as vice president of the PEN board after being called by a World Voices panel with Russian dissidents for a separate PEN event amid objections to the presence of Ukrainians in town. had given
Last week, Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos announced he would not attend the gala, where he was scheduled to accept the PEN America Business Visionary Award.
Sarandos cited the writers’ strike, during which Netflix has been a major target of criticism among union members. But the company was cited Thursday night as a major sponsor of the dinner event.
Former SNL writer and performer John Mulaney presented Michaels with the PEN Literary Service Award, which has previously been given to Stephen King, Stephen Sondheim and Rushdie, who won in 2014 for “exceptional artistry and courage as a novelist and essayist.” was
Michaels has helped launch countless television and movie stars, but on Thursday he dedicated his speech to the writers and SNL’s writing room.
Authors, he explained, are associated with “paper airplanes” and “just fooling around” and conservatives are “not completely wrong.”
Writers are like monkeys “because monkeys are funny and you don’t really know what they’re going to do and they’re going to be among us.”
But they are some of the “smartest and most intelligent men and women I know,” he added, and the “beating heart” of “Saturday Night Live” is in the writers’ room.
“This is the room you want to be in,” he said. “There’s a little freedom you take when you laugh.”