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Biography of Salman Rushdie (1947-)

Salman Rushdie Salman Rushdie

Anglo-Indian author Salman Rushdie is one of the leading novelists of the twentieth century. His style is often likened to magic realism, which mixes religion, fantasy, and mythology into more grounded reality. He has been compared to authors such as Peter Carey, Emma Tennant, and Angela Carter. His somewhat flippant and familiar way of treating religion has provoked criticism, however, peaking in the Ayatollah of Iran's issue of a fatwa (a death order) in response to The Satanic Verses, his fourth novel.

Ahmed Salman Rushdie was born on June 19, 1947 in Bombay, India, to a middle class Muslim family. His father was a businessman, educated in Cambridge, and his grandfather was an Urdu poet. At fourteen, he was sent to England for schooling, attending the Rugby School in Warwickshire. In 1964, his family, responding to the growing hostilities between India and Pakistan, joined many emigrating Muslims by moving to Karachi, Pakistan.

These religious and political conflicts deeply affected Rushdie, although he stayed in England to attend the King's College in Cambridge, where he studied history. While in school, he also joined the Cambridge Footlights theatre company. Following his graduation in 1968, he began working in Pakistani television. Later, he also acted with the Oval House theatre group in Kennington, England, and until 1981, he wrote freelance copy for advertisers Ofilvy and Mather and Charles Barker.

In 1975, Rushdie published his first novel. Grimus, a science fiction story inspired by the twelfth century Sufi poem "The Conference of the Birds," was largely ignored by both critics and the public. Rushdie's literary fortunes changed in 1981, when the publication of his second novel, Midnight's Children, brought him international fame and acclaim. The story is a comic allegory of Indian history, and tells of the 1001 children born after India's Declaration of Independence, each of whom possesses a magical power. It won the Booker Prize for Fiction, the English-Speaking Union Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize (fiction), and an Arts Council Writers' Award. In 1993 and 2008, it was named the "Booker of Bookers," acknowledging it as the best recipient of the Booker Prize for Fiction in the award's history.

His third novel, [Shame] (1983), was commonly regarded as a political allegory of Pakistani politics. It used a wealthy family as a metaphor for the country, and included characters based on former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. It won the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger, and made the short list for the Booker Prize. In 1987, Rushdie published a short travel narrative titled The Jaguar's Smile.

In 1988, Rushdie became the center of a controversy surrounding the publication of his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, which revolves around two Indian actors who struggle with religion, spirituality, and nationality. Although the book won the Whitbread Award, Rushdie's free adaptation of Islamic history and theology caused the orthodox Muslim Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran to issue of a fatwa, a call for all obedient Muslims to assassinate him. The book was banned and burned in many countries, and several people involved with its publication were injured and killed. After the death threat, Rushdie shunned publicity and went into hiding for many years, although he continued to write.

He published a book of children's stories in 1990, titled Haroun and the Sea of Stories. It won the Writers' Guild Award (Best Children's Book). He next published a collection of essays, Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991 (1991), and a collection of short stories, East, West (1994). Then came another novel, The Moor's Last Sigh (1995), which used a family's history to explore the activities of right-wing Hindu terrorists, and the cultural connections between India and the Iberian peninsula. The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999) was Rushdie's sixth novel, re-imagining the birth of modern rock music. He also published the novel Fury in 2001, and Step Across This Line: Collected Non-fiction 1992-2002 in 2002. His latest novel Shalimar the Clown, published in 2005; it was a finalist for the Whitbread Book Awards. In 2012, he published a memoir of his days in hiding, [Joseph Anton].

While many of Rushdie’s texts center on the interpretation and role of religion in society, Rushdie himself is an atheist. This upset many Muslims who previously regarded Rushdie as a strong figure in the Muslim community. Combined with the unpopularity and assassination attempts that followed the publication of The Satanic Verses, Rushdie issued a statement in 1990 claiming that he had renewed his Muslim faith. He denounced the blasphemous ideas that he wrote in The Satanic Verses and said that he was committed to better understanding the religion and how it fit into the larger world narrative. He also issued a request for the publisher to never again produce new copies of The Satanic Verses However, in 1995, he admitted the tactic was only a survival mechanism and that he still does not prescribe to any religious beliefs. He considers the statement the biggest mistake of his life.

Rushdie ended his fourth marriage, which was to the American television star Padma Lakshmi, in 2007. He is an Honorary Professor in the Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association, a Distinguished Fellow in Literature at the University of Anglia, a recipient of the 1993 Austrian State Prize for European Literature, a recipient of the 1996 Aristeion Literary Prize, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Commandeur de Arts et des Lettres. He was also President of PEN American Center from 2003-2005. In 2000, he moved from London to New York. In 2006, he became the Distinguished Writer in Residence at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

Study Guides on Works by Salman Rushdie