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.
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
After nearly an hour of give-and-take discussion,
Rushdie received warm applause from the UH audience before leaving to prepare
evening appearance downtown.
There, the mood suddenly shifted, as he
was greeted by chants of, "Out! Out! Rushdie, out!" and, "Death, death,
More than 300 protesters, having arrived
in two buses, had gathered along the corner of Texas Avenue and Louisiana
downtown evening traffic.
Many held placards with such messages as
"Creative vulgarity is Rushdie's specialty" and "Hell is thirsty for Salman
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