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Nine months after a near-lethal attack that left him debilitated and without vision in one eye, Booker Prize-winning author Salman Rushdie made his first appearance at the PEN Americas annual gala in New York City.
His appearance at the 2023 Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan on Thursday night came as a surprise as it had not been earlier announced.
PEN America honored the India-born author with the PEN Centenary Courage Award.
“Rushdie accepted the award in person, in his first public appearance since he was severely wounded in a knife attack nine months ago,” said the nonprofit that works to defend and celebrate free expression in the US and worldwide through the advancement of literature and human rights.
As the crowd greeted him with cheers and a standing ovation, the 75-year-old noted author said: “Well, hi everybody… It’s nice to be back — as opposed to not being back, which was also an option. I’m pretty glad the dice rolled this way.
“I just thought if there’s a right thing to chose as a re-entry, it’s this… It’s being part of the world of books, the fight against censorship and for human rights.”
Rushdie said he was accepting the award on behalf of the “heroes” who rushed the dias at the Chautauqua Institute in New York State and tackled his assailant after he was repeatedly stabbed on August 12, 2022.
“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.”
As a result of the murderous attack, Rushdie, who had received death threats from Iran in the 1980s after his novel ‘The Satanic Verses’ was published, lost sight in one of his eye, had three serious wounds in his neck, one hand incapacitated because the nerves in his arm were cut, as well as about 15 more wounds in his chest and torso.
Hadi Matar, 24, accused of stabbing Rushdie pleaded not guilty to second-degree attempted murder and assault charges when he appeared in court on August 18, 2022.
Concluding his speech, the author said: “Terrorism must not terrorise us. Violence must not deter us… The struggle goes on.”
PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said: “After the shock of the attack, there was a long period when we had real doubts about whether Salman was going to make it and what kind of shape he might be in if he did. So to see him back, in action, at this event, with his PEN America family is a remarkable testament to his resilience and strength and a kind of emblem of our work — that in the face of lethal threats, the writer triumphs and the voice continues.”
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