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In solidarity with Salman Rushdie

An ineffable thread connects the writer and the reader, and we reacted with shock at Friday's news that Sir Salman Rushdie was attacked and repeatedly stabbed at a literary event in Chautauqua, NY.

Read below about an event on Thursday, Aug. 18, in Albany to show support for Rushdie, followed by a Q&A with Writers Institute Director Paul Grondahl and Ayad Akhtar, New York State Author, president of PEN America, and a personal friend of Salman Rushdie, sharing thoughts on Friday’s violent attack.

Salman Rushdied at the University at Albany in April 2018. (Brian Busher / UAlbany Photo)
Salman Rushdie at the University at in Albany, April 2018

Rushdie has been a two-time visitor to the Writers Institute, in April 2018 and December 2019. He had originally been scheduled to come to Albany in February 1989 to talk about his newly published novel, The Satanic Verses, an event canceled after Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwā ordering Rushdie's execution forced the author into hiding.

William Kennedy, Writers Institute founder, and Tom Smith, the late UAlbany English professor and former Writers Institute director, decided to turn the event into a forum on censorship and a reading of the opening pages of The Satanic Verses.

“We carried on,” Kennedy told Paul Grondahl in a story published in Wednesday's Times Union. “It wasn’t a particularly happy evening and there was tension. A couple people spoke out against Salman, but the vast majority condemned the fatwa and defended Salman’s right to free speech. There has always been great support for him in the writing community. He is a great writer and a good man.”

Thursday event in support and solidarity with Salman Rushdie

We will show our support and solidarity with Salman Rushdie, a citizen of world literature and a fearless defender of free speech at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 18 at the Social Justice Center in Albany, as part of the Third Thursday Poetry Night coordinated by poet Dan Wilcox.

The open mic will feature Albany author Joe Krausman and attendees are also invited to read from Rushdie’s work and offer words of support for the author, who remains hospitalized. The Writers Institute and Times Union are joining forces with Wilcox, who suggests a donation of $5 to support the monthly poetry program.

Event details

7:30 p.m. Thursday, August 18

Social Justice Center

33 Central Avenue, Albany NY 12210

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Salman Rushdie at the University at Albany, April 2018. (Brian Busher / UAlbany Photo)
At the University at Albany, April 2018.
Salman Rushdie and Writers Institute Founder William Kennedy at the University at Albany, April 2018.
Salman Rushdie and Paul Grondahl at the University at Albany on Dec. 4, 2019.
Salman Rushdie and Paul Grondahl at the University at Albany on Dec. 4, 2019.
Salman Rushdie signed books for fans following his event at the University at Albany on Dec. 4, 2019. (All photos by Brian Busher / UAlbany Photo)

A Q&A with Ayad Akhtar, NYS Author and President of PEN America

Here is a transcript of Paul Grondahl's conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar, who is currently at work writing for a limited HBO series titled Doomsday Machine.

Ayad Akhtar (Little, Brown And Company)
Ayad Akhtar (Little, Brown And Company)

Have you spoken with Salman. If so, what did he say?

I have not spoken to him. I gather he is in the midst of recovering, and that it is a long road ahead. The good news is that he is on that road now.

How are you processing this attack? Is there any rational response to violent religious extremism?

It has hit me hard. Salman stands at the center of my life and work. He made so much possible for me and writers like me. He is, in many ways, our father, as a writer of the Indo-Pak diaspora. In many ways, he was also the first and most powerful example of the power of literature for me, the sheer force of it. How it could upend the world.

How do we as a community of writers support Salman and also stand up to such attacks on free expression and freedom of speech.

It's so important to remember in moments like this, where there is clarity and unanimity, that the principle that applies here, must apply elsewhere. We see in this culmination of Salman's dilemma, which has gone on for three decades now, that the "harm" speech can cause cannot stand with an equal claim on us as the need for freedom of expression.

There are many today who would wish to convince us that the potential "harms" speech may cause should be grounds to mitigate freedom of expression. Obviously, with what has happened to Salman we recognize the centrality of the freedom. That the freedom to speak must come first and foremost. For, so many in the Muslim world have felt "harmed" by Salman's book. But that is no justification for retribution or violence of any sort.

Do you expect this attack will have a chilling effect for free and open public readings by writers, such as those we present dozens of times each semester.

It is my sincere hope that this isn't the case. But we are living in complicated and turbulent times. And with violence on the increase across our American society, and with more and more people feeling that violence is a way for them to express their politics, we might be entering a time when caution is called for, even at literary festivals.


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