Author Salman Rushdie, 75, was attacked on August 12 as he was being introduced for a lecture he was giving at the Chautauqua Institution, a gated community near Erie in western New York. Witnesses told the New York Times that Rushdie was punched and stabbed, suffering multiple wounds. He was evacuated to a local hospital by helicopter.
Rushdie was placed on a ventilator after surgery on Friday, but his agent, Andrew Wylie, told the New York Times that the author was recovering, and was able to speak again on Saturday. Rushdie was punched or stabbed roughly 10 times and, according to Wylie, suffered liver damage, nerve damage to one arm, and damage to one of his eyes, which he was expected to lose. A suspect, Hadi Matar of New Jersey, has been arrested; while no motive for the attack has been discovered, authorities say the assault was premeditated.
Rushdie is the respected and sometimes controversial author of 14 novels. His most celebrated work is Midnight's Children, the 1981 Booker Prize–winning epic novel about the partition of India and Pakistan; it is considered among the best novels of the last half-century. The book was initially banned in India, where Rushdie was subsequently barred from traveling for more than a decade.
A subsequent novel proved more contentious: 1988's The Satanic Verses incorporated elements of the Holy Quran and fictionalized parts of the life of Muhammad. Deemed blasphemous to Islam, the book prompted the late leader of Iran, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to issue a fatwa calling for Rushdie's death in 1989. (Iran, which has not removed the fatwa, denied involvement in the attack, but has blamed Rushdie for its occurrence.)
Following the news, the book briefly became a bestseller, until death threats were extended to publishers and translators of the book—as well as to booksellers, many of who opted not to stock the book out of fear of reprisals. At the time, PW covered the news extensively, with editor-in-chief John Baker calling Khomeini a "gangster" and implored the industry to rally around Rushdie and his U.S. publisher, Viking Penguin.
Rushdie spent much of the next decade in hiding or traveling with security, only emerging and attending public events again in 2000, when the threat appeared to have been lifted. Until this year, his life had been relatively incident-free, despite his continued and open criticism of Islamic violence, especially in the wake of the September 11 attacks. He was knighted by the Queen of England in 2007 for his services to literature. His new novel, Victory City, is being published by Random House in February next year.
Speaking of the attack, Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, said in a statement: “We can think of no comparable incident of a public attack on a literary writer on American soil.” She added: “Just hours before the attack, on Friday morning, Salman had emailed me to help with placements for Ukrainian writers in need of safe refuge from the grave perils they face. Salman Rushdie has been targeted for his words for decades, but has never flinched nor faltered.” (Rushdie is a past president of PEN America.)
Other organizations have issued statements condemning the attack and offering support for Rushdie. Authors Guild president Doug Preston said he was "horrified and shocked to learn that our valued member and longtime friend." He added that, while no motive has been unearthed, the Guild "can and will say this: the assault on Rushdie was an attack on all writers and on free speech itself. We are all Salman Rushdie.” In its statement, the National Coalition Against Censorship called Rushdie "a brave defender of free speech," and said it is hard to not think that the assault was in retaliation for Rushdie writing The Satanic Verses.
In addition, numerous authors have offered their support for Rushdie on Twitter, including Neil Gaiman, who wrote on Twitter: "I'm shocked and distressed to see my friend @SalmanRushdie has been attacked before a talk. He's a good man and a brilliant one and I hope he's okay." Following her own tweet of support, author J.K. Rowling was threatened on Twitter; a police investigation in the U.K. is now ongoing.
This story has been updated.