Rushdie Makes Surprise Appearance to Collect Award

Honor was kept under wraps until minutes before the author accepted it
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 15, 2023 10:10 AM CST
Salman Rushdie Given 'Lifetime Disturbing the Peace Award'
Author Salman Rushdie receives the Vaclav Havel Library Foundation's first ever Lifetime Disturbing the Peace Award at the Vaclav Havel Center on Tuesday in New York.   (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

The latest honor for Salman Rushdie was a prize kept secret until minutes before he rose from his seat to accept it. On Tuesday night, the author received the first-ever Lifetime Disturbing the Peace Award, presented by the Vaclav Havel Center on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Only a handful of the more than 100 attendees had advance notice about Rushdie, whose whereabouts have largely been withheld from the general public since he was stabbed repeatedly in August 2022 during a literary festival in Western New York.

"I apologize for being a mystery guest," Rushdie said Tuesday night after being introduced by Reading Lolita in Tehran author Azar Nafisi. "I don't feel at all mysterious. But it made life a little simpler." The Havel center, founded in 2012 as the Vaclav Havel Library Foundation, is named for the Czech playwright and dissident who became the last president of Czechoslovakia after the fall of the Communist regime in the late 1980s, reports the AP. The center has a mission to advance the legacy of Havel, who died in 2011 and was known for championing human rights and free expression.

Rushdie spent much of his speech praising Havel, a close friend whom he remembered as being among the first government leaders to defend him after the novelist was driven into hiding by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's 1989 decree calling for his death over the alleged blasphemy of The Satanic Verses. Rushdie said Havel was "kind of a hero of mine" who was "able to be an artist at the same time as being an activist." "He was inspirational to me, as [well as] for many, many writers, and to receive an award in his name is a great honor," Rushdie added.

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Alaa Abdel-Fattah, the imprisoned Egyptian activist, was given the Disturbing the Peace Award to a Courageous Writer at Risk. His aunt, the acclaimed author and translator Ahdaf Soueif, accepted on his behalf and said he was aware of the prize. Abdel-Fattah, who turns 42 later this week, became known internationally during the 2011 pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East that drove out Egypt's longtime President Hosni Mubarak. He has since been imprisoned several times under the presidency of Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, making him a symbol for many of the country's continued autocratic rule. (More Salman Rushdie stories.)

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