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Authors and friends rally and read for Salman Rushdie

A group of writers and supporters of Salman Rushdie.
Writers and supporters of Salman Rushdie gather outside the New York Public Library on Friday.
(Yuki Iwamura / Associated Press)

Friends and fellow authors spoke out on Salman Rushdie’s behalf during a rally Friday on the steps of the main branch of the New York Public Library, one week after he was attacked onstage in the western part of the state and hospitalized with stab wounds.

Rushdie’s condition has improved and, according to his literary agent, he has been removed from a ventilator.

A judge refused to grant bail Thursday to the man accused of trying to kill Rushdie as the acclaimed author prepared to give a talk.

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Hadi Matar, 24, appeared in a New York courtroom after a grand jury indicted him on charges that he rushed the stage at the Chautauqua Institution and stabbed Rushdie multiple times in front of a horrified crowd.

Matar stayed quiet during the hearing while his lawyer unsuccessfully tried to convince the judge that he should be released while he awaited trial. Public defender Nathaniel Barone said Matar had no criminal record and wouldn’t flee the country if released.

Barone also asked the judge to do something to stop reporters from trying to contact Matar at the Chautauqua County Jail. The lawyer said the jail had received “several hundred phone calls” from people trying to reach Matar.

Some of that media outreach resulted in Matar giving a brief interview to the New York Post, in which he talked about disliking Rushdie and praised Iran’s late supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Khomeini issued an edict in 1989 demanding Rushdie’s death over his 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses,” which some Muslims consider blasphemous. An Iranian foundation had posted a bounty of more than $3 million.

Jeffrey Eugenides, Tina Brown and Kiran Desai were among those who shared wishes for a full recovery, told stories of Rushdie as an inspiration and defender of free expression, and read passages from his books, essays and speeches, including from “The Satanic Verses.”

Rushdie spent years in hiding after Khomeini issued the fatwa calling for his death, but had traveled freely over the last two decades.

The hourlong “Stand With Salman” gathering was presented in part by the library, by Rushdie’s publisher, Penguin Random House, and by the literary and human rights organization PEN America. Hundreds were in attendance, many affiliated with PEN, of which the 75-year-old Rushdie is a former president.

“He’s been a constant, indefatigable champion of words and of writers attacked for the purported crime of their work,” said PEN America Chief Executive Suzanne Nossel. “Today, we will celebrate Salman for what he has endured, but even more importantly, because of what he has engendered — the stories, characters, metaphors and images he has given to the world.”

Nossel said Rushdie was aware of the event and even made suggestions for what to read. Rushdie’s son Zafar Rushdie, who has been with his father, said on Twitter that “it was great to see a crowd gathered” outside the library.

Other rally readers included the author and journalist Gay Talese, author and former PEN President Andrew Solomon, and the poet, lawyer and activist Reginald Dwayne Betts. Actor Aasif Mandvi read from Rushdie’s upcoming novel, “Victory City,” which he completed before the attack and includes the passage, “I myself am nothing now. All that remains is the city of words. Words are the only victors.”

Eugenides, whose novels include the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Middlesex,” remembered traveling to London in the early 1980s. Eugenides was 20 and Rushdie’s breakthrough novel “Midnight’s Children” had recently been published. He knew Rushdie lived there and decided he wanted to meet him. It was years before “The Satanic Verses,” and Eugenides found his name and address in the phone book.

“I took the tube out to his house. As it turned out, Salman wasn’t at home; he was in Italy, vacationing,” said Eugenides, who was greeted by Rushdie’s then-mother-in-law and left a note for the author.

“That was the world we used to live in,” Eugenides said.


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