New York – Prominent literary figures including Paul Auster and Gay Talese gathered in Manhattan on Friday for a reading of Salman Rushdie’s works, in solidarity with the author seriously injured in a stabbing attack.
More than a dozen acclaimed writers, including friends and colleagues of Rushdie, spoke at the steps of the New York Public Library for the event, which organizers said the novelist had been invited to watch from the hospital.
One week ago he was about to be interviewed as part of a lecture series in upstate New York when a man rushed onto the stage and stabbed him repeatedly in the neck and abdomen.
Talese, wearing his signature fedora and three-piece suit, read an excerpt from “The Golden House” novel, while Irish writer Colum McCann read from Rushdie’s 1992 New Yorker essay “Out of Kansas.”
McCann told audience members, who held posters promoting freedom of speech, that he looked forward to Rushdie’s recovery and return to the literary world.
“He has always risen to the moment,” McCann said. “I think he will have something profound to say.”
Rushdie spent years under police protection after Iranian leaders called for his killing over his portrayal of Islam and the Prophet Mohammed in his 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses.”
Hari Kunzru, the British novelist and journalist, read the opening of the book.
“Salman once wrote that the role of the writer is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it from going to sleep,” Kunzru said. “That’s why we’re here.”
– ‘Hold up the sky’ –
Rushdie’s suspected assailant, 24-year-old Hadi Matar from New Jersey, was wrestled to the ground by staff and audience members before being taken into police custody.
Matar answered to a grand jury indictment on Thursday, pleading not guilty to attempted murder and assault charges.
Following the attack, the 75-year-old Rushdie was airlifted to a nearby hospital for emergency surgery.
His condition remains serious but he has shown signs of improvement, and no longer requires assisted breathing.
“Not even a blade to the throat could stifle the voice of Salman Rushdie,” said Suzanne Nossel, head of the US branch of PEN, an international organization that defends free speech and which hosted the rally.
“Salman spoke for scores of writers who’ve been persecuted and tormented, and did not want their ordeals to subsume their identities or to drown out their imaginations.”
Indian author Kiran Desai read a passage from Rushdie’s “Quichotte.”
“Dearest Salman, and dearest family of Salman, this past week so many of us realized we’d been counting on you to hold up the sky,” Desai said prior to the reading.
“I hope you know that you can count on us too. We’re here for you, and we’re here for the long haul.”