Salman Rushdie has been honoured with the PEN Centenary Courage Award as the Mumbai-born writer made his first in-person public appearance since being stabbed and severely wounded in a knife attack at a literary event here last year.
Rushdie, 75, attended the 2023 Literary Gala in New York City at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan on Thursday night.
PEN America honoured its former president Rushdie, who accepted the award in person.
“Well, hi everybody. Its nice to be backas opposed to not being back, which was also an option. Im pretty glad the dice rolled this way, said Rushdie, who was greeted by the audience with whoops and a standing ovation.
“I have a long association with PEN America. Im just happy to be back amongst an evening of writers and book people,” he said.
Rushdie was stabbed by a 24-year-old New Jersey resident identified as Hadi Matar, a US national of Lebanese origin, on stage in August last year while he was being introduced at a literary event at Chautauqua Institution in Western New York.
The brutal attack left the Booker Prize-winning author, born to a Kashmiri family in Mumbai, debilitated and without vision in one eye.
Speaking to 700 guests at the gala – a black-tie annual event that gathers acclaimed writers, human rights defenders, and cultural luminaries – Rushdie issued a call to action.
Terrorism must not terrorise us. Violence must not deter us. The struggle goes on, he said.
It was an emotional return to the stage for Rushdie, who for decades has been a tireless defender of persecuted writers and the freedom to write while himself living under a death threat for his writing, PEN America said in a statement.
Rushdie said he was accepting the award on behalf of the heroes who rushed the dias at the Chautauqua Institute and tackled his assailant after he was repeatedly stabbed on August 12.
If it had not been for these people, I most certainly would not be standing here today. I was the target that day, but they were the heroes. The courage, that day, was all theirs. I owe my life to them, he said.
PEN Americas current president, playwright and novelist Ayad Akhtar said the organisation was honouring Rushdie “because of what he stood for and continues to stand for”.
Rushdie, who turns 76 next month, began his close association with PEN America when the Booker Prize-winning author emerged after more than a decade in hiding as the result of a call for his death issued in 1989 by the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini over his novel The Satanic Verses.
He served as PEN America president from 2004-06. PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide.
Rushdie has written more than a dozen books since 1981 when he first rose to fame after publishing his Booker Prize-winning tome Midnights Children. He has also published four non-fiction works, including a memoir. His latest and 15th novel is titled Victory City, a fictionalised telling of the story of the Vijayanagara Kingdom.
“Ive just finished @SalmanRushdies magnificent & magical Victory City a fabulous recreation of the history of the Vijaynagar Empire through his magical-realist lens, brilliantly written as always, full of the verve and brio of a writer at the height of his powers,” senior Congress leader and writer Shashi Tharoor tweeted early this month.
“The book ends with the sentence Words are the only victors. But the wielder of these words is a victor too, & Victory City is a triumph. That overdue Nobel must not be withheld any longer to the greatest living Indian writer,” he said.
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