Salman Rushdie made an emotional and unexpected return to public life on Thursday night, attending PEN America’s annual gala and delivering the event’s closing speech to a standing ovation.
The 75-year-old lost an eye and the use of a hand when he stormed the stage at a literary event near Lake Erie in upstate New York in August.
Hadi Matar, a Shia Muslim American from New Jersey who sympathizes with Iranian extremist causes, has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted second-degree murder and assault.
Rushdie accepted a special award, the PEN Centenary Courage Award, on Thursday – nine months after he was repeatedly stabbed and hospitalized. PEN is a non-profit organization that promotes freedom of expression through literature and human rights.
“It’s nice to be back – as opposed to not being back, which was also a possibility,” he said to a standing ovation.
“I’m glad the dice rolled that way.”
Sir Salman Rushdie, 75, made a surprise appearance at the PEN gala in New York on Thursday night and received a standing ovation
Rushdie used his speech to urge people not to give in to terror threats
Rushdie’s appearance at the gala, held at the American Museum of Natural History, was his first public event since the stabbing
Rushdie is asked about protests in Iran, says he supports women calling for freedom
Thursday’s gala, at the American Museum of Natural History, was Rushdie’s first in-person appearance at a public event since he was attacked.
Rushdie, whose attendance was not announced beforehand, spoke briefly and dedicated some of his remarks to those who came to his aid at the Chautauqua Institution, a nonprofit education and retreat center. .
He cited another participant, Henry Reese, of the City of Asylum project in Pittsburgh, for taking on the abuser and thanked members of the public who also intervened.
“So I accept this award on behalf of everyone 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: terror should not terrorize us. Violence should not deter us. The struggle continues. The struggle continues. The struggle continues.
Rushdie is pictured with his fifth wife, poet Rachel Eliza Griffiths. The couple married in 2021
Rushdie is pictured with Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of PEN America
Attacks on Rushdie have been feared since the late 1980s and the publication of his novel “The Satanic Verses”, which Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini condemned as blasphemous for passages referring to the Prophet Muhammad.
The Ayatollah issued a decree calling for Rushdie’s death, forcing the perpetrator into hiding for many years – despite having lived and traveled freely for decades before the attack.
Since his assault, he has since granted few interviews and otherwise communicated via his Twitter account and prepared remarks.
Earlier this week he delivered a video message at the British Book Awards, where he received a Freedom to Publish award.
Rushdie was clearly excited to attend the gala, but his voice sounded more frail than before and the right frame of his glasses was dark, hiding the eye blinded by his assailant.
PEN galas have long been a combination of literature, politics, activism and celebrity, with attendees ranging from Alec Baldwin to Senator Angus King of Maine.
Hadi Matar (right) has been charged with attempted murder for stabbing Salman Rushdie (left). Matar said he only read two pages of Rushdie’s book: Rushdie called him “idiot”
The 75-year-old Indian-born British author was about to give a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution when he was stabbed around 12 times, including once in the neck.
Rushdie was airlifted to hospital after the August 12 attack. He spent six weeks there before being released.
Other winners on Thursday included ‘Saturday Night Live’ producer Lorne Michaels and imprisoned Iranian journalist and activist Narges Mohammadi, who received the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.
“Dear writers, thinkers and sympathizers, I implore you to help the Iranian people to free themselves from the grip of the Islamic Republic, or morally speaking, please help to end the suffering of the Iranian people”, wrote Mohammadi from prison in a letter read. out loud during the ceremony.
“Let us prove the magic of world unity against the authorities obsessed with power and greed.”
The Thursday night host was ‘Saturday Night Live’ editor Colin Jost, who inspired nervous laughter with jokes about the risks of being in the same room as Rushdie, likening it to sharing a section balcony with Abraham Lincoln.
He also briefly touched on the Hollywood writers’ strike, which has interrupted “Saturday Night Live” since early May, saying it was “disorienting” to spend the afternoon on a picket line and then show up “at the ‘museum cocktail hour’. ‘
PEN events are familiar venues for Rushdie, former president of PEN, the literary rights organization for which freedom of expression is a core mission.
He has participated on numerous occasions 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 culmination of a turbulent month for PEN, the literary and free expression organization which has been in the midst – by choice or not – of various conflicts.
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-chair of the PEN board after a World Voices panel with Russian dissidents she had been cancelled. was to moderate, amid objections to their having Ukrainians in town for a separate PEN event. .
Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie spent years in hiding after receiving ‘spiritual’ death threats from Iran
Sir Salman Rushdie is a Booker Prize-winning author and novelist.
The 75-year-old was born in India and his writing is often based on themes of connections and migrations between Western and Eastern civilizations.
He won the Booker Prize in 1981 for his second novel, The Midnight Children. His writing has spawned 30 book-length studies and over 700 articles about his writing.
Rushdie’s writings have been widely acclaimed in the genres of magical realism and historical fiction.
He has lived in the United States since 2000 and was named Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University in 2015.
He has been shortlisted five times for the Booker Prize, including for Midnight’s Children, in 1983 for Shame, in 1988 for The Satanic Versus, in 1995 for The Moor’s Last Sign and in 2019 for Quixote.