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Literature, Politics and Fatwas

April 9, 2008

Ryan Rivet

Before a capacity crowd at Dixon Auditorium on Monday (April 7), award-winning author and fatwa survivor Salman Rushdie used his mischievous sense of humor and unique perspective to keep the audience enthralled, touching on topics from the job of the artist, to the fatwa (religious edict) levied against him, to American politics.

Salman Rushdie speaks at Dixon Auditorium

Speaking about the challenges of being a writer, Salman Rushdie lectures on the uptown campus on Monday as part of the English department’s Great Writers Series. (Photos by Paula Burch-Celentano)

Lecturing on "Public Events, Private Lives, Literature and Politics in the Modern World," Rushdie spoke about the challenges in setting out as a writer.

"To create a work of art is an optimistic act. If you're lucky, as a writer you come in to the business with something inside you that wants to be expressed. But it can be a bit like shouting into a void."

He spoke about what it takes to continue to write.

" 'Now what?' is a terrifying question," he mused. "You have to find a second act. When you're young you have to fake control, when you're older you'll have to fake energy."

Discussing his commitment to his art, Rushdie spoke about the religious edict called by the late Iranian spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, condemning the author to death for what some thought of as an irreverent depiction of the prophet Mohammed in Rushdie's book, The Satanic Verses. He said he was not going to let an Iranian priest control what he wrote.

"An artist…must push back against the borders, to help expand the universe, that's the job," Rushdie said. The author, who has won numerous international awards for writing, has a new book coming out in June, The Enchantress of Florence.

In keeping with his lecture's title, Rushdie commented on the upcoming presidential election.

"It is very rare when a politician uses words to tell the truth, but it is a very powerful thing when they do. Martin Luther King used his words to tell the truth. You can't imagine the civil rights movement without 'I have a dream,' can you?"

Salman Rushdie speaks at Dixon Auditorium

Filling up Dixon Hall Auditorium, an enthralled Tulane audience enjoys hearing writer Salman Rushdie talk about politics, his condemnation by the late Ayatollah Khomeini, and the challenges of writing.

He said he believed Sen. Barak Obama's speech about race was another example of a politician using his words in such a manner, saying, "I hope you give him the job. I can't vote," said the British citizen.

Gaurav Desai, associate professor and chair of the English department, was excited about the opportunity for aspiring writers and fans to learn from a high-profile author such as Rushdie.

"Rushdie's visit, from his afternoon tour of the city's revived as well as still- recovering parts, to his evening reception, to his standing-room-only Dixon Hall lecture, was by all accounts a spectacular success," Desai said. "The combination of the breadth and depth of his literary knowledge with a keen sense of wit and humor made Rushdie a delightful speaker and interlocutor.

"Our students in creative writing had an opportunity to talk with him both about the craft of writing in general as well more particularly about his own fiction."

Rushdie's visit to Tulane was the second in the Great Writers Series sponsored by the Creative Writing Fund that brought author Toni Morrison here last spring. Established by an anonymous donor in 2006, the Creative Writing Fund is dedicated to enhancing the university's undergraduate program and developing stimulating literary programming for both Tulane and the New Orleans community.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000