Tuesday, September 11, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 14


 
 









 
Rushdie ignores protest, speaks in Houston

By Koroush Ghanean and Ray Hafner
Daily Cougar Staff

To an entire country, Salman Rushdie became the spawn of Satan when he published his 1989 book The Satanic Verses. The
implications of that book were enough for the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the clerical leader of Iran, to proclaim a fatwa, or religious
decree, calling for Rushdie's death.


Pin Lim/The Daily Cougar


Indian-British author Salman Rushdie speaks about his life and work to an audience of UH students and faculty at the Roy G. Cullen
building Monday.


The death sentence sent the Indian-born British national and his family into hiding for 10 years.

The fruits of that ordeal are the books that he published, the latest one being Fury.

Rushdie visited UH on Monday afternoon to speak to an audience of students and faculty about his writing style, his latest work, and his life
since 1989.

Later, he gave a public reading from his latest novel at downtown's Alley Theatre as the first guest of the 2001-2002 Margaret Root Brown
Reading Series, a co-venture of UH's creative writing program and Imprint, Inc.

His writing has given Rushdie as much fame as it has given him infamy.

"One of the things I learned about being a writer is that the things that people like your writing for are also the things that people dislike your
writing for," Rushdie said. "While some people enjoy the fact that my books (aren't linear), there are other people who dislike (them) for that
very reason."

His latest work is unlike many of his past novels in the sense that it has a more linear narrative.

"There are some people who are disappointed that this story goes more or less in a straight line," he said. "But again, there are other
people who like it. One of the things you are going to discover [as a writer] is that not everybody is going to like what you do."

Rushdie said that there are many influences on his unique writing style, ranging from French author Honore de Balzac to Franz Kafka of
Poland.

"Balzac is in my list of influence. Actually, I read Balzac to prepare for this book. (I used) his cinematic style of zooming in -- 'Here is a city,
and here are the socio-economic factors in this city. In the city there are people and they live in these neighborhoods. In this neighborhood
is a street. In the street there is a house, and here most of the action will take place.' I thought that was very useful so I decided to steal it."

The actual circumstances of Rushdie's life interest many people more than his books do, particularly the years of hiding from the threat of
murder.

"I worry that I am known more for my political situation than I am for my books. But there is nothing I can really do about it but write books.
And, truthfully, I think that it is fading away, and books last longer than scandals," he said.

When asked if he would write a book about his life in the future, Rushdie was unsure.

"I have kept a journal over the past couple of years, and much of it is actually quite good," he said. "But (what happened to me) really seems
like a bad Russian novel. I could have written it better."

Rushdie said that another reason he is waiting to write a book about his experiences is that they are still too recent for him to relive them.

"I just lived 10 years going through all of that," Rushdie said. "I don't really feel like revisiting it so soon. Maybe I will leave that as a
retirement pension."

After nearly an hour of give-and-take discussion, Rushdie received warm applause from the UH audience before leaving to prepare for his
evening appearance downtown.

There, the mood suddenly shifted, as he was greeted by chants of, "Out! Out! Rushdie, out!" and, "Death, death, Rushdie, death!"

More than 300 protesters, having arrived in two buses, had gathered along the corner of Texas Avenue and Louisiana Street, slowing
downtown evening traffic.

Many held placards with such messages as "Creative vulgarity is Rushdie's specialty" and "Hell is thirsty for Salman Rushdie."

Syde Jfri, general secretary of Houston's Islamic Education Center, explained the protestors' presence by saying, "We will not tolerate
anyone who is anti-Islam."

Rushdie said of the protestors, "I'd bet not anyone out there has read anything I've written." Unfazed, Rushdie even described the chants as
"rather old-fashioned of them."

Since the fatwa was officially rescinded more than three years ago, Rushdie has steadily increased his public appearances.

Extra police were on hand outside, but inside Houston's literati brimmed with excitement. The appearance was both the first stop on
Rushdie's new book tour.

The protesters soon proved to be merely a detail. As Rushdie took the Alley's main stage, more people gave a standing ovation than there
were protesters outside. Rushdie humbly apologized for the protesters, saying he didn't know how the "British literary critics" got there.

Rushdie read from Fury, a satiric view of contemporary New York City. Rushdie wanted to tackle the recent "golden age" of New York,
when the economy was strong and Elian Gonzales was in the news. He said that was a weird time, and there is "nothing like a weird time
for a writer."

After a brief reading from the work, Rushdie sat down for a short interview and answered audience questions. His book tour continues on to
Minneapolis tomorrow.
 
 
 

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