I just read Salman Rushdie’s personal essay in the 17 September 2012 issue of the New Yorker about the first few months of his life after the fatwa against his life was issued upon the publication of The Satanic Verses. It is a moving, heartbreaking text that makes one realize how much of a hero Rushdie was and is in his willingness to stand up for free speech, and to continue writing even though he knew that thousands of people hated him for it. Several bookstores were bombed in England for stocking the novel, so never let anyone tell you that literature is not political. The essay is essential reading for anyone who cares about literature.
I saw Rushdie read at the Barnes & Noble on the north end of Union Square in Manhattan in late 2002 or early 2003, and it was an amazing experience because even then there was the sense that he was risking his life to give us an evening of enjoyment. He had pre-signed copies of his newest book because it was too dangerous for him to meet readers personally to sign their copies, but he graciously took people’s (sometimes gratingly asinine) questions after the reading. About a year later I saw him standing outside of a bar smoking and talking with some friends (I can’t remember if he was actually smoking, or if he was just accompanying his acquaintances while they smoked, as this was soon after the City banned all smoking in restaurants), and it made me happy to see that he was able to have this moment of normalcy after everything he’d been through.