Oct. 16, 2006
59, Number 7
Oct. 16, 2006
‘Rushdie comes to Emory’ heard around the world
BY Elaine Justice
When the news broke last week of celebrated writer Salman Rushdie joining the Emory faculty and placing his archive here, James Curran, dean of the Rollins School of Public Health, was in South India. He saw a headline in a local newspaper there—“Rushdie Going to Emory”—and immediately called President Jim Wagner.
“Not only was he proud of Emory’s news about Rushdie, but also that the newspaper headline referred to Rushdie and his works coming to ‘Emory,’ not ‘Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.’ It’s nice to know that we are gaining name recognition even in South India,” said Wagner.
News of Rushdie’s appointment as Distinguished Writer in Residence and his considerable archive coming to Emory set off a wave of worldwide media coverage, including articles in The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and The Guardian. “The teaching appointment of Salman Rushdie and the significance of his archive underscore the importance of the humanities in addressing the global issues of our day,” said Provost Earl Lewis in the announcement.
Rushdie, in addition to being a master of world literature, is one of the most prominent voices for human rights. Though the subject of a nearly decade-long fatwa after his 1988 publication of “The Satanic Verses,” he continued to champion oppressed artists and peoples.
“How we fight it is going to be the great civilizational test of our time,” Rushdie has said about terrorism. Principles of human rights and religious and artistic freedom, he has emphasized, are crucial in this world struggle.
“Mr. Rushdie brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to help us understand the fault-lines between cultures that threaten to rupture societies around the world today,” said Emory College Dean Bobby Paul of the appointment. He stressed that Rushdie will be an important presence on campus “not only in the study of literature and creative writing, but in Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies as well.”
This is Rushdie’s first extended relationship with a university. His position as Distinguished Writer in Residence is a five-year appointment in the English Department, beginning in the spring of 2007. During each of these five years he will be teaching for at least four weeks, lead a graduate seminar, participate in undergraduate classes, advise students, engage in symposia and deliver a public lecture.
Rushdie began his relationship with Emory in 2004 when he delivered the Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature, said Stephen Enniss, director of Emory’s Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library (MARBL). “Rushdie arrived on campus familiar with the high literary standards of that lecture series [past Ellmann lecturers have included Seamus Heaney, Denis Donoghue, Helen Vendler, Henry Louis Gates, A.S. Byatt and David Lodge], and while here he learned that Emory has one of the fastest-growing literary archives in the country.”
In other words, Rushdie found an institutional commitment to the literary arts “that was well established and that served to preface the negotiations that followed,” said Enniss.
In placing his papers at Emory, Rushdie is joining an elite group of modern masters. “Emory has become one of the major literary archives in North America,” said Dana Gioia, chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. Emory’s research collections have become well known among scholars and literary experts in recent years as the personal and literary papers of such modern literary giants as the late British poet laureate Ted Hughes and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney have been added to MARBL at Woodruff Library.
“The Rushdie papers will provide the primary resource for future generations seeking to understand an artist at the center of our era,” said Enniss. Included in the archive are Rushdie’s private journals detailing life under the fatwa, as well as personal correspondence, notebooks, photographs and manuscripts of all of his writings, including two early unpublished novels.
News of Rushdie’s archive coming to Emory elicited congratulations to Enniss from colleagues at rare book and special collection libraries throughout the world—at Stanford and Princeton universities and at the British Library in London. The British Library is hosting an international conference Oct. 19–20 titled propitiously, “Manuscripts Matter: Collecting Modern Literary Archives.”
“There is recognition that the Rushdie papers coming here is a real endorsement of the program we have and a sign of its strength,” said Enniss, who will be in London for the conference.
He will be speaking at a session titled “Cultural Property and Cultural Assumptions: The Transatlantic Trade in Modern Literary Manuscripts.” He expects the discussion—much of it centered on the Rushdie archive—to be a lively one.
Enniss also received accolades for his work at Emory by The Guardian, where he was described as “an indefatigable curator of manuscripts” and a “distinguished literary scholar.”