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Long out of hiding, Rushdie concludes Just Buffalo’s Babel season



When Mike Kelleher says “final question” to a guy like Salman Rushdie, you'd better get in line for the signing. Rushdie is a rockstar author who not only brought the biggest crowd yet for a Just Buffalo Literary Center Babel event, and also the longest line for a post-Babel signing.

It all began with Rushdie relaying how we can thank Charles Dickens for making authors feel like they were allowed to do "the strange thing" and speak in front of people. The Brit’s arduous second tour of America might have been a direct cause of his death, but he did it anyway—a fun fact, and the first of many jokes from Rushdie—adding that some are better at the speaking tour than others, but it kills them. With everyone in the audience fully aware of the fatwa Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued for the author's controversial novel The Satanic Verses, making light of authors getting killed had a much deeper meaning. But if I took anything from Rushdie this evening, it’s that if you aren’t confident enough to speak freely with passion, you shouldn’t speak at all.

Rather than go into the motivations or meanings of his novel Midnight’s Children alone, he instead spoke about the changing job of the medium. Trained as a historian, the usage of books as a means of facilitating news is not lost on him. He believes art is at its best when it opens the world up to those previously in the dark. Storytelling is central to our nature and we pass on our history through it, whether by private familial tales or more broad accounts of a nation.

Rushdie is as interesting a human being as you can encounter. Toiling for twelve years before finding his first of much success in his field, this British-educated Indian has done all he can to speak his mind and create conversation. While he wrote The Satanic Verses to spark intellectual discourse, he never thought someone would take a civilized debate and change it into the question of whether one should be able to kill an author for his words. The only thing worse, he says, than the Ayatollah hating his work, would be if he liked it. From this attitude, I’d gather that Rushdie wouldn’t change a thing if he had the opportunity to do so. He is proud of his role in that conversation as well as seeing how ordinary people won the battle—bookstore owners, translators, publishers, and readers—by refusing to be told what they can or can’t do. His answer to whether a writer should be killed was “No,” followed by a soft chuckle and the mention of Dan Brown’s name. But he shook his head and said that he didn’t think Brown should be killed … just that he should no longer be allowed to write.

To conclude with a few Babel tidbits: Season Four is set and ready to go come October. With a new $25,000 grant from HSBC Premier, it appears that the monetary goal will be reached and perhaps Just Buffalo will be putting the show on for many years to come. It is all getting bigger and more user-friendly with the continued use of sign language for the hearing impaired and the addition of instant closed captioning. (Mike Kelleher really tested the typist in his opening speech’s breathless description of Midnight Children’s lead character.) It’s a valuable new tool, and a sign of the event’s progression toward accommodating all who want to attend.

Babel 2010/2011 Season:
V.S. Naipaul (Trinidad and Tobago) – October 19
Maxine Hong Kingston (United States) – December 1
Edwidge Danticat (Haiti) – March 25
Chris Abani (Nigeria) – April 15
Buy your tickets today by clicking here.

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