authors | December 06, 2012

"A High Point in Canadian Public Life": Salman Rushdie's Historic Visit

When Salman Rushdie made a surprise appearance at the Winter Garden Theatre stage in Toronto twenty years ago, it was a "high point in Canadian public life." At the time, the critically acclaimed author was living in hiding, forced underground because of an infamous fatwa that was issued in response to his book, The Satanic Verses. As reported in the latest edition of Hazlitt, Rushdie's appearance was historic not so much for the "opportunity for the embattled author of The Satanic Verses to enjoy the rare company of his fellow authors, but for an entire country to unite in support of free expression."

A brilliant provocateur, the author is never afraid to speak his mind and is a dedicated proponent or free speech. When he stepped on stage that day two decades ago, Rushdie would later recount (in his recently released memoir, Joseph Anton) that it felt like he was receiving the "highest of literary honours.” He was joined on stage by fellow authors who supported his struggle to not have his voice silenced, and also read from a short story; reminding the audience that, despite the uproar and the scandal, he was indeed a very gifted writer.

“For a time I used to get really upset about the fact that this book had been attacked by people who had not read it,” Rushdie tells the Canadian audience. “[But] perhaps it’s not very easy to burn a book once you’ve read it.” Like in his writing, his sweeping talks explore prominent and powerful world themes including freedom of expression, religion, pop culture, current events at home and abroad, East-West relations, and the role of the artist to shape our understanding of the world. He is a winner of the prestigious Booker Prize, as well as the Best of the Booker Prize for his novel Midnight's Children, which was recently adapted to film in collaboration with Academy Award-nominated director Deepa Mehta. He is as adept at telling a riveting story on the stage as he is with the pen, and the insights Rushdie present force audiences to take a deeper look at what's going on around them—and become involved with the most important issues facing the world today.