Novelist Salman Rushdie is on a ventilator after being stabbed during a speech : NPR

Novelist Salman Rushdie suffered liver, nerve and eye damage when he was attacked Friday at a conference in western New York, according to his agent. He is on a ventilator.


Acclaimed novelist Salman Rushdie is hospitalized after being assaulted in western New York yesterday. The 75-year-old writer was on stage giving a talk at the Chautauqua Institution when witnesses say a man rushed over and stabbed him repeatedly. Rushdie’s agent says the author is on a ventilator with a damaged liver and severed nerves in his arm. His agent says Rushdie might lose an eye. Police identified the suspect as Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, NJ. They charged him with attempted murder and assault. There was no word on the motive for the attack. NPR’s Mandalit del Barco reveals more about the life and career of Salman Rushdie.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Salman Rushdie was born in India in 1947, in what was then called Bombay, and grew up in England. His fiction, blending magical realism, myths and legends with history, has won him numerous prestigious international writing awards. But his writing also made him the target of a fatwa or edict calling for his death. This came in response to his 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses, which some Muslims considered blasphemous. Rushdie told NPR in 2012 that this book was inspired by the life of the Prophet Muhammad.


SALMAN RUSHDIE: My goal was not to write only about Islam. It was to talk about the nature of revelation and also to suggest that when a great new idea comes into the world, it has to meet two challenges. One is the challenge of how do you behave when you are weak, and the other is how do you behave when you are strong?

DEL BARCO: “The Satanic Verses” have sparked violent street protests around the world. The novel was banned in Iran, where Ayatollah Khomeini offered a bounty of more than $3 million to anyone who killed Rushdie. Translators and others connected to the book were attacked, even murdered, and Rushdie went into hiding for years. In his 2012 memoir, ‘Joseph Anton’, he wrote that he had been forced into hiding, moving from house to house as part of a British government protection scheme. And he had armed guards around the clock. That year, he told NPR, the police asked him for an alias.


RUSHDIE: I withdrew into literature and I chose this name among the first names of Conrad and Chekhov. Joseph Conrad, Anton Chekhov equals Joseph Anton. I had to be invisible. And that name – the name is all that could be seen. No one thought it would last very long. They said, lay low for a few days and let diplomats and politicians do their job, and this will be solved. Instead, in the end, it took almost 12 years.

DEL BARCO: Slowly, Joseph Anton emerged from isolation as Salman Rushdie, and he continued to write on many subjects, including human nature. He lived freely in New York and he continued to defend freedom of expression.

SUZANNE NOSSEL: It’s horrifying to think that someone has reached him in this way and the idea that his voice could be silenced in this way is simply beyond imagination.

DEL BARCO: Suzanne Nossel is the CEO of PEN America. She says that while there are constant attacks from writers around the world, this stabbing is unprecedented in the United States. She says Rushdie was prolific and lived without fear.

NOSSEL: I’ve gotten to know him over the past 10 years, and he’s been anything but a hidden person. He has been outspoken, very present in the arena, fearless in terms of public debate, standing up for other writers who face scorn, attacks and assaults for what they say. His life has been a kind of act of defiance.

DEL BARCO: Nossel says that just hours before he was attacked, Rushdie emailed him asking how to help Ukrainian writers find refuge in the United States

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.


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