Salman Rushdie: Writers Gather in New York to Read Works by Solidarity Authors | Salman Rushdie

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Crowds gathered near the steps of the New York Public Library in midtown Manhattan on Friday morning as writers read from novelist Salman Rushdie, who survived an assassination attempt in western New York last week.

The event, Stand With Salman; Defend the Freedom to Write, was organized by Pen America, Rushdie’s library and publisher, Penguin Random House.

Rushdie was about to give a talk at the Chautauqua Institution last Friday when he was attacked on stage and stabbed multiple times.

Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old man from Fairview, New Jersey, was arrested. He pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted second degree murder and assault.

Rushdie, 75, was hospitalized with serious injuries after an assault that writers and politicians around the world have condemned as an attack on free speech.

A work that many Muslims consider blasphemous led to death threats against Rushdie from Iran in the 1980s, after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for the writer’s death .

Students, writers, activists and tourists attended Friday’s event in Manhattan. Several police officers with dogs lined the scene, wearing helmets and carrying firearms.

One woman wore a white t-shirt that read “Read Rushdie” in colorful letters. Other attendees held up large prints of Rushdie’s book covers, including The Satanic Verses – the subject of the fatwa – Joseph Anton and Quixote.

Several carried Pen America signs that featured quotes from Rushdie. A sign read: “Art is not entertainment. At its best, it’s a revolution” – an excerpt from Rushdie’s speech at the 2012 Pen America World Voices Festival. Another said, “If we don’t trust our freedom, then we’re not free.

American Red Cross staff member Pamela Marquez commuted by train from Fairfield, Connecticut, to attend.

“It’s really important for us to uphold and protect the rights of writers,” she told the Guardian. “It’s really important for us to understand the work that writers do and how much effort they put into it and they don’t get enough recognition and that’s why I’m here.

“Knowledge is power and we get that knowledge through books and we get that knowledge through the creative minds of these writers.”

Salem Fray, an English teacher in Harlem, said he was there to defend free speech.

Rushdie “comes across as someone who’s willing to say what needs to be said, regardless of the outcome, and I think that’s an important thing to support,” Fray said.

Siri Hustvedt speaks as people gather on the steps of the New York Public Library to show their support for Salman Rushdie. Photography: Michael M Santiago/Getty Images

In her opening remarks, Pen America CEO Suzanne Nossel said, “When a would-be murderer plunged a knife into Salman Rushdie’s neck, he pierced more than the flesh of a renowned writer. .

“It spanned time, making us all shake to recognize that the horrors of the past were hauntingly present. It seeped across borders, allowing the long arm of a vengeful government to reach a safe haven. It disturbed our calm, leaving us awake at night, contemplating the sheer terror of those moments exactly a week ago.

“He shattered our comfort, forcing us to contemplate the fragility of our own freedom. Today we come together in support of Salman, our stalwart leader and comrade who endures the agony of a 33-year vendetta, a death warrant that refuses to die, a declaration of an endless war on words.

“We stand with Salman in an effort to cheer him up but also in a determination to stiffen our thorns.”

Jeffery Eugenides, the American novelist best known for The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex, prefaced a reading of Rushdie’s 1981 novel Midnight’s Children by describing a time when he was a young writer on tour in London. Eugenides recalled how in love he was with Rushdie’s works and wanted to meet him in person.

“I looked it up in the London telephone book. It was there, under the Rs – Rushdie, Salman, with an address and phone number. I took the metro to his house. Turns out Salman wasn’t home…but his mother-in-law let me in…I told her why I was there, she gave me a piece of paper and I wrote a note to Mr. Rushdie and I left it for him and went back to my hotel.

“It was a world we lived in, a world where the only madness that could be visited by a writer came in the form of an overly rambunctious young reader showing up on his doorstep. This world was called civilization. Let’s try to hang on to it.

The crowd cheered.

Other writers who read at the event included Reginald Dwayne Betts, Siri Hustvedt, Gay Talese, Colum McCann and Roya Hakakian.

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