British writer Salman Rushdie has attended a New York gala in his first public appearance since a knife attack nearly took his life last year.
The award-winning novelist, a naturalized American who has lived in New York for 20 years, lost sight in one eye after being stabbed on stage in August while speaking at a US arts centre.
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“It’s nice to be back – as opposed to not being back, which was also a possibility. I’m glad the dice rolled this way,” Rushdie told 700 guests at the American Museum of Natural History on Thursday, where he received a standing ovation.
He was given an honorary award at an event hosted by PEN America, a group that defends freedom of expression and literature, of which Rushdie was previously the president.
The 75-year-old, wearing glasses with a black lens over his right eye, did not announce his presence before he appeared to deliver an emotional address.
“Terrorism should not terrorize us. Violence must not deter us. The struggle continues,” Rushdie proclaimed in French, Spanish and English, according to a PEN America press release.
Rushdie lived in hiding for years after Iran’s first supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, ordered his killing for what he deemed the blasphemous nature of The Satanic Verses, a book Rushdie published in 1988.
He has since become an icon of free speech and is still an outspoken defender of the power of words.
On August 12, he was at a literary conference in the small town of Chautauqua in upstate New York when a man with a knife stormed the stage as Rushdie was about to begin speaking.
He was stabbed about 10 times, and Rushdie’s literary agent Andrew Wylie revealed in October that he had lost sight in one eye and the use of one hand.
Bystanders and guards subdued the assailant, who was immediately arrested, charged and jailed pending trial.
Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old from New Jersey with roots in Lebanon, pleaded not guilty to assault charges.
In February, around the release of his latest novel, Victory City, the writer said in his first interview since the attack that he faced a lot of difficulty writing and was suffering from post-traumatic stress.
On Thursday, he thanked the people who came to his aid in August. “If it had not been for these people, I most certainly would not be standing here today. I was the target that day, but they were the heroes. The courage that day was all theirs. I owe my life to them,” Rushdie told the crowd.
PEN events are familiar settings for Rushdie. He has attended many times in the past and is a co-founder of PEN’s World Voices Festival, an international gathering of author panels and interviews held around the time of the PEN gala.