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Salman Rushdie: allow writers to create characters outside of their own experience

Salman Rushdie has said that if authors are only allowed to write characters that mirror themselves and their own experiences, “the art of the novel ceases to exist”.

“If we’re in a world where only women can write about women and only people from India can write about people from India and only straight people can write about straight people … then that’s the death of the art,” the novelist said, according to the Times.

Salman Rushdie announces memoir, Knife, about being stabbed in 2022Read more

Speaking at a press conference at the Frankfurt book fair on Friday, the Indian-born British-American author also said that he was “filled with horror” at the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October. He added that he was “filled with foreboding” about what the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, “might do in return”, and he hoped for a “cessation in hostilities at the earliest point”.

The event marked a rare public appearance for Rushdie, who survived a knife attack while on stage in New York state in August 2022. The attack came 33 years after Iran delivered a fatwa calling for the novelist’s death in response to the publication of The Satanic Verses, which was deemed blasphemous.

Earlier this month, it was announced that Rushdie’s memoir about the attack, titled Knife, will be published in April 2024. Asked about the forthcoming book during the press conference, Rushdie said that it had seemed “impossible to write anything else”. He also said that it had been a “difficult year” and that he is “happy to still be here”.

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Rushdie also received the German Book Trade’s prestigious peace prize on Sunday, and used the opportunity to call for the unconditional defence of freedom of expression, according to AP. Earlier this year, the German jury of the €25,000 (£21,786) prize said that they were honoring Rushdie “for his resolve, his positive attitude to life and for the fact that he enriches the world with his pleasure in narrating”.

The author also said that literature can do “very little” to help during the Israel-Hamas war. “I always try not to overstate the power of literature,” he said in an interview with German news outlet DW. “What writers can do – and what they are doing – is to try to articulate the incredible pain that many people are feeling right now and to bring that to the world’s attention.”

At least 1,400 people were killed in the assault on Israel earlier this month, and the Palestinian health ministry has said that at least 5,087 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza since 7 October. The Frankfurt book fair – the world’s largest – was criticised after it called off a planned awards ceremony celebrating Palestinian author Adania Shibli .

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In Friday’s press conference, Rushdie also condemned recent moves to prosecute the Booker prize-winning novelist Arundhati Roy for a speech she made in 2010 about Kashmir. “She is one of the great writers of India and a person of enormous integrity and passion,” said Rushdie, according to AFP. “The idea that she should be brought to court for expressing those values is disgraceful.”