NEW YORK - Prominent literary figures including Paul Auster and Gay Talese gathered Friday in Manhattan for a reading of Salman Rushdie's works, in solidarity with the author seriously injured in a stabbing attack.
More than a dozen acclaimed writers, including friends and colleagues of Rushdie, spoke at the steps of the New York Public Library for the event, which organizers said the novelist had been invited to watch from the hospital.
One week ago Rushdie was about to be interviewed as part of a lecture series in upstate New York, when a man stormed the stage and stabbed the 75-year-old writer repeatedly in the neck and abdomen.
In Rushdie's honor the American literary journalist Talese, sporting his signature fedora and three-piece suit, read an excerpt from "The Golden House" novel, while Irish writer Colum McCann read from the 1992 New Yorker essay "Out of Kansas."
A.M. Homes -- the American author whose own works including "The End of Alice" novel have triggered controversy over the years -- read from Rushdie's piece "On Censorship," which was drawn from a lecture he gave in 2012.
"No writer ever really wants to talk about censorship," she read. "Writers want to talk about creation, and censorship is anti-creation, negative energy, uncreation, the bringing into being of non-being."
Rushdie spent years under police protection after Iranian leaders called for his killing over his portrayal of Islam and the Prophet Mohammed in his 1988 novel "The Satanic Verses."
Hari Kunzru, the British novelist and journalist, read the opening of that book.
"Salman once wrote that the role of the writer is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it from going to sleep," Kunzru said. "That's why we're here."
- 'A hero' -
Rushdie's suspected assailant, 24-year-old Hadi Matar from New Jersey, was wrestled to the ground by staff and audience members before being taken into police custody.
Matar answered to a grand jury indictment Thursday, pleading not guilty to attempted murder and assault charges.
Rushdie's condition remains serious after emergency surgery but he has shown signs of improvement, and no longer requires assisted breathing.
"Not even a blade to the throat could stifle the voice of Salman Rushdie," said Suzanne Nossel, head of the US branch of PEN, an international organization that defends free speech and which hosted the rally.
"Salman spoke for scores of writers who've been persecuted and tormented, and did not want their ordeals to subsume their identities or to drown out their imaginations."
Prior to her reading English writer Tina Brown addressed Rushdie directly, saying "you never asked for the role of a hero."
"You just wanted to be left alone to write," she continued. "But in the tenacity with which you've defended free speech, you are a hero and have paid a terrible price."
- 'Hold up the sky' -
Writer and historian Amanda Foreman said Friday's turnout "shows people are not afraid."
"No matter what, we and they, we are all willing to stand up for what we are believing," she told AFP.
Among the attendees was Raymond Lotta, an author and spokesperson for the Harlem shop Revolution Books, who told AFP the stabbing of Rushdie was "an attack on critical thinking, on dissent, on creativity."
Rushdie, who was born in India in 1947, moved to New York two decades ago and became a US citizen in 2016.
In an interview given to Germany's Stern magazine days before last Friday's attack, he had described how his life had resumed a degree of normality following his relocation from Britain.
"Dearest Salman, and dearest family of Salman, this past week so many of us realized we'd been counting on you to hold up the sky," said author Kiran Desai at the rally, before reading a passage of Rushdie's "Quichotte."
"I hope you know that you can count on us too. We're here for you, and we're here for the long haul."