Salman Rushdie He made an emotional return to public life Thursday night at PEN America’s annual gala and delivered the event’s final address as he accepted a special award, the PEN Centennial Award of Courage, just nine months after leaving PEN America. . Was stabbed multiple times and was admitted to the hospital.
“It’s nice to be back — not not to be back, which is also possible,” Rushdie, 75, told hundreds of people gathered at the American Museum of Natural History, where he That got a standing ovation from the audience.
It was his first public appearance in person since last August when he was attacked on stage at a literary festival in Western New York.
Rushdie, who did not announce his attendance in advance, spoke briefly and dedicated some of his remarks to those who helped him at Chautauqua College, a nonprofit educational and retreat center. He cites an attendee, Henry Rees of the Pittsburgh City of Sanctuary Project, who took on the attackers, and thanked listeners who also stepped in.
“So I accept this award on behalf of all the people who came to save me. 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.
“I have one last thing to add. This is it: Terror cannot intimidate us. Violence cannot stop us. La lutte continues. La lutta continua. The struggle continues.”
Attacks on Rushdie have been feared since the late 1980s and the publication of his novel “The Satanic Verses,” which Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini denounced as blasphemous passages of the Prophet Muhammad. The ayatollah issued a decree calling for the death penalty for Rushdie, forcing the author into hiding, even though he had traveled freely for many years before his assassination.
Since then, he has rarely given interviews, instead communicating via his Twitter account and being prepared to speak. Earlier this week, he delivered a video address to the British Book Awards, where he received the Free Press Award.
Rushdie was clearly happy to be at the party, but his voice sounded weaker than before, and the right rim of his glasses was darkened to cover the eye blinded by his attacker.
The PEN gala has long been a mix of literature, politics, activism and celebrity, with attendees ranging from Alec Baldwin to Senator Angus King of Maine. Thursday’s other honorees included “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels and jailed Iranian journalist and activist Narheesh Mohammadi, who won the PEN/Babi Freedom to Write Award.
“Dear writers, thinkers and sympathizers, I implore you to help the people of Iran free themselves from the grip of the Islamic Republic, or morally, please help end the suffering of the people of Iran,” Mohammadi wrote from prison and cried out at the ceremony . “Let us prove the magic of global solidarity against authorities obsessed with power and greed.”
Thursday night’s host, “Saturday Night Live” lead writer Colin Yost, joked about the risks of being in a room with Rushdie, likening it to sharing a balcony area with Abraham Lincoln, sparking controversy. Nervous laughter. He also briefly mentioned the Hollywood writers’ strike that has kept “Saturday Night Live” off the air since early May, saying that spending an afternoon on the picket line and then showing up at “museum cocktail hour” is “disorienting.” of”. “
The PEN event was a familiar scene for Rushdie, the former president of PEN, a literary rights organization with free speech as its core mission. He has attended several times in the past and is the co-founder of the PEN World Voices Festival, a gathering of international writers’ panels and interviews held around the time of PEN’s gala.
The unexpected appearance of Rushdie is the highlight of an eventful PEN, a literary and free expression organization that has been caught in the middle of various conflicts — by choice or otherwise.
On Wednesday, PEN America and Penguin Random House sued a Florida school district for removing books about race and LGBTQ+ identity from its shelves. Earlier this week, author Masha Gessen revealed she had resigned as vice chair of PEN’s board of directors after a panel she was scheduled to host on World Voices with Russian dissidents was criticized by Ukrainians. Opposition to their participation in a separate PEN event in town was canceled.
Last week, Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos announced he would not be attending the gala, where he will accept the PEN America Business Visionary Award. Sarandos cited the example of the writers’ strike, during which Netflix has been a major target of criticism from union members. But the company was listed as the main sponsor of the dinner on Thursday night.
Former SNL writer and performer John Mulaney presented Michaels with the PEN Literary Service Award, which had previously been awarded to Stephen King, Stephen Sondheim and Rushdie, in 2014 for his work “as a novelist and prose for the unparalleled artistry and courage of the artist”. Michaels helped launch countless TV and movie stars, but on Thursday he dedicated his speech to writers and SNL’s writing room.
He explained that the stereotype that writers are associated with “paper airplanes” and “fucking shit” is “not entirely wrong.” Writers are a bit of a monkey, “because monkeys are so funny, you don’t really know what they’re going to do, they’re just like us.” But they’re also “the smartest, most mature men and women I know,” he says. Adding that the “beating heart” of “Saturday Night Live” is in the writers room.
“It’s a room you want to be in,” he said. “When you laugh, it has an air of freedom.”
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