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Authors ‘stand with Sir Salman Rushdie' defending the freedom to write

The world-renowned author's closest friends and colleagues read texts from his body of work.

Tina Brown was among the writers standing in solidarity with Sir Salman Rushdie defending the freedom to write – a week after the world-renowned author was stabbed.

Sir Salman’s closest friends and colleagues joined together on the steps of the New York Public Library on Friday to read texts from his body of work.

Suzanne Nossel, chief executive officer of Pen America, which organised the event with Penguin Random House, said: “When a would-be murderer plunged a knife into Salman Rushdie’s neck, he pierced more than just the flesh of a renowned writer.

“He sliced through time, jolting all of us to recognise that horrors of the past were hauntingly present.

“Today, we gather to stand with Salman, our stalwart comrade who is enduring agony wrought by a 33-year-old vendetta. A declaration of a never-ending war on words.”

Ms Nossel, who noted Sir Salman was tuning into the live stream of the event from Pennsylvania hospital, said: “Not even a blade could steal the voice of Salman Rushdie, not for a minute, certainly not for a week.”

She added: “We will celebrate Salman because of what he has endured, but even more importantly because of what he has engendered. The stories, characters, metaphors and images that he has given to the world.

“Perhaps above all we celebrate Salman’s perseverance, his creative perseverance, perseverance in the face of peril, his perseverance on behalf of ideals and principles that we must recognise.”

Indian-born British novelist Sir Salman was about to deliver a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in New York state on August 12 when he was attacked.

The 75-year-old, whose novel The Satanic Verses led to death threats from Iran in the 1980s, suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye.

British author and journalist Tina Brown, who wrote The Palace Papers, The Diana Chronicles and The Vanity Fair Diaries, said: “Salman, my dear old friend.

“I am proud to stand here for you today as you stood up for so many in the last 33 years.

“You never asked for the role of a hero, you just wanted to be left alone to write. But it is tenacity in which you have defended free speech. You are a hero and have paid a terrible price.

“I wish you a speedy recovery and look forward to telling you in person what your fight has meant to us all here today.”

Hari Kunzru, who read the opening of The Satanic Verses, said: “I am here as a friend of Salman.

“Salman once wrote that the role of the writer is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, stop it from going to sleep.

“And that’s why we are here.

“Because we owe it to him to stay awake and to use our words to shape the world.”

American novelist Jeffrey Eugenides read from Sir Salman’s novel Midnight’s Children, while Gay Talese read from The Golden House and A.M. Homes read from On Censorship from Sir Salman’s 2012 Arthur Miller Freedom To Write lecture.

American poet Reginald Dwayne Betts, who read from Sir Salman’s The Power Of The Pen, said: “I am here because Salman Rushdie’s words matter.”

While Siri Hustvedt, who read from Joseph Anton: A Memoir, said: “I am reading in honour of a dream.”

Iranian-American poet Roya Hakakian read from Sir Salman’s 1990 novel Haroun And The Sea Of Stories, while Irish writer Colum McCann read from Out Of Kansas.

Before reading her text, novelist Amanda Foreman asked the crowd to shout Sir Salman’s name three times and wave their signs in the air.

Sir Salman’s son, Zadar Rushdie, shared a picture of the growing crowd at the event on Friday.

He wrote on Twitter: “Great to see a crowd gathered outside the @nypl today for @PENamerica #StandWithSalman @SalmanRushdie.”

At the end of the event, the crowd and contributors took a photograph on the New York Library steps with the words “Stand with Salman”, which they also chanted.

On Thursday, the man accused of stabbing Sir Salman pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault charges.

Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, appeared at an afternoon hearing at Chautauqua County Court in New York after being indicted by a grand jury.

Judge David Foley refused to grant Matar bail, according to court papers.