Rushdie’s wit calms community apprehension


Salman Rushdie spoke in front of approximately 950 people in the auditorium, and he also spoke to several AP Literature classes in the Staples Library beforehand.

When Salman Rushdie took the podium in Staples’ very own auditorium on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015, everyone at the event, from the attendees to the surplus of security, was put at ease by Rushdie’s witty humor, despite the apprehensions felt by the community earlier that day.

“I’m sorry you’ve had a bit of a fuss about my arriving,” Rushdie joked, an opener that immediately elicited laughter, silencing worries amongst anxious listeners. “You don’t look scary to me,” the author continued.

Rushdie, an award-winning British-Indian essayist and novelist, has written 12 novels, most recently “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights,” published in September 2015.

His attendance at Staples on Thursday was part of his book tour for his recent novel and as a guest for this year’s Malloy Lecture in the Arts, a Westport Public Library sponsored event.

The Malloy lecture began in 2002 after a generous contribution made to the library by the late Susan Malloy, a noted Westport artist and philanthropist, and has been continuing annually for the last 13 years. According to the Westport Public Library’s website, the lecture series was created to be a “free, public annual discussion by an individual who has had a significant cultural influence and whose work has enhanced the understanding and appreciation of the arts.”

However, for this year’s event, one needed both a ticket and a photo I.D., making access to the talk a little more difficult but still just as “worthwhile,” as Robyn Levy Weisz, a Westport resident, put it.

Weisz also acknowledged that the heightened security, including police from Wilton, Trumbull, Monroe, Stamford, Darien and the FBI stationed in and around the school, made sense due to “the controversy surrounding Rushdie’s novel, ‘The Satanic Verses.’”

Published in 1988, “The Satanic Verses,” won the 1988 Whitbread Novel of the Year award, yet it proved to be highly controversial as many Muslims believed it was written in mockery of their faith. In response to this alleged mockery, then Leader of Iran Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomein called for Rushdie’s death, which some refer to as a “fatwa.”

It was due to this threat that Staples had a mandatory evacuation of the school by 4 p.m. cutting sports practices and club meetings short, as called for in a school-wide email. Additionally, students were also asked to remove their bags from the cafeteria prior to Rushdie’s arrival, who was given a motorcycle escort from the highway to Staples.

Maria Hodge ’17 was amongst numerous attendees who thought all the media attention surrounding the event was a little superfluous. “I think the security measures used made sense, but I don’t think there was any reason to feel unsafe at the school,” Hodge said. “The police were there to make us feel safe, and it really wasn’t that big of a deal at all.”

Despite such precautionary hype about the event, Rushdie himself remained outwardly optimistic, saying that he hasn’t and won’t let this looming threat affect his course as a writer too much.

“I didn’t want to be deflected by this [the fatwa] but to go on being the writer I always wanted to be,” Rushdie said, later adding, “I believe you should be allowed to publish and live.”

And such optimism clearly was reflected by guests of the event, who were laughing at every witty comment or caustic reference made by Rushdie.

“I know there was a lot of security and hype surrounding his talk,” Weisz remarked. “But in all honesty, I had never imagined I would be able to meet him [Rushdie], so when I saw he was speaking practically in my very own backyard, I knew there was no way I could pass this opportunity up.”


Rushdie held a book signing after the talk for his twelfth book, “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights.” Rushdie says, “It’s funny actually, writing the book took almost the exact same time as the title itself.”


Rushdie is the author of 11 other books and has received several prestigious honors including the Booker Prize. Additionally, Rushdie is an Honorary Professor in the Humanities at M.I.T and Emory University.
Rushdie is the author of 11 other books and has received several prestigious honors including the Booker Prize. Additionally, Rushdie is an Honorary Professor in the Humanities at M.I.T and Emory University.