PEN America Honors Salman Rushdie with Centenary Courage Award  

Salman Rushdie, who received an award at the PEN America gala May 18, 2023, being interviewed. PHOTO: Twitter videograb @PENamerica

Indian American author Salman Rushdie, was awarded the PEN Centenary Courage Award May 18, 2023, in person, his first public appearance since he was severely wounded in a knife attack nine months ago.

“Terrorism must not terrorize us. Violence must not deter us. La lutte continue. La lutta continua. The struggle goes on,” Rushdie declared, speaking to 700 guests at the American Museum of Natural History. PEN America’s mission to protect free expression was never “more important” in a time of book bans and censorship, he added.

Rushdie said he was accepting the award on behalf of the “heroes” who rushed the dias at the Chautauqua Institute and tackled his assailant after he was repeatedly stabbed  last Aug. 12, 2022.

“If it had not been for these people, I most certainly would not be standing here today. I was the target that day, but they were the heroes. The courage, that day, was all theirs. I owe my life to them,” said the author now wearing an eyepatch to cover lost eyesight as a result of that knife attack.

PEN America’s current president, playwright and novelist Ayad Akhtar, referred to “our beloved Salman Rushdie,” and said the organization was honoring him “because of what he stood for and continues to stand for, and what this organization is fundamentally all about. Freedom. Freedom to think, freedom to speak, freedom to inquire, freedom to make sense of reality without deference to dogma, irrespective of the consequences. He has enlarged the world’s imaginative capacities and at such great cost to himself.”

Rushdie, who turns 76 next month, began his close association with PEN America when the Booker Prize-winning author emerged after more than a decade in hiding as the result of a call for his death issued in 1989 by the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini, for his novel The Satanic Verses.

Salman Rushdie after the injury he suffered following a terrorist attack in August 2022. PHOTO: videograb

He served as PEN America president from 2004-06 and co-founded the organization’s World Voices Festival, an annual spring event bringing international writers to New York City and Los Angeles; this year’s festival, the 18th edition, concluded last Saturday, May 13.

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said: “After the shock of the attack, there was a long period when we had real doubts about whether Salman was going to make it and what kind of shape he might be in if he did. So to see him back, in action, at this event, with his PEN America family is a remarkable testament to his resilience and strength and a kind of emblem of our work —  that in the face of lethal threats, the writer triumphs and the voice continues.”

Earlier in the evening, PEN America honored Saturday Night Live creator and executive producer, Lorne Michaels with the PEN/Audible Literary Service Award. The imprisoned Iranian writer and human rights defender Narges Mohammadi received the 2023 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.

The gala, a black-tie event that gathers acclaimed writers, human rights defenders, cultural luminaries, and champions of PEN America’s mission “is a highlight of the New York City social calendar” that mobilizes support for  PEN America’s literary and advocacy programs across the United States and worldwide, the press release said.

The program was followed by a private VIP afterparty, with DJ Vicious, sponsored by Spotify.

Video footage available HERE 



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here