Emory Report
February 19, 2007
Volume 59, Number 20

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February 19, 2007
Rushdie arrives on campus as Distinguished Writer in Residence

BY kim urquhart

In the first week of Salman Rushdie's monthlong stay on campus, the celebrated writer and human rights champion has been the guest of honor at a welcome reception, the subject of a press conference with major media, and the center of attention of 17 slightly-in-awe graduate students.

Emory's new Distinguished Writer in Residence seemed to relish his role as professor, observed Mark Schmidt, a student in Rushdie's graduate seminar "Contemporary World Literature." He noted that Rushdie "stayed 10 or 15 minutes late even though it was a three-hour class."

"I was surprised by how approachable and amiable he was," said Schmidt, an English major who is writing his dissertation on depictions of upward mobility in American literature and popular culture. Schmidt said that the opportunity to learn from Rushdie will provide an important world perspective to his research, but added "it's worth it just for the experience to be able to work with someone who is as learned as he is."

According to Deepika Bahri, director of Emory's South Asian Studies Program and associate professor of English, "The presence of this eminent writer on the Emory campus allows students to access a living resource. Rushdie's formidable erudition, committed stance on issues of great public significance, and deeply humanistic sensibility constitute a living library of wisdom and understanding for our students."

Yet the on-campus presence of the author of "The Satanic Verses" and other major works of fiction will not be confined to the classroom. On Sunday, Feb. 25, Rushdie will deliver the 2007 Annual Sheth Lecture at 5 p.m. in Glenn Memorial Auditorium.

Rushdie noted the “serendipitous” connection between his lecture, “The Composite Artist,” and the Michael C. Carlos Museum exhibit “Domains of Wonder: Selected Masterworks of Indian Painting.”

Domains of Wonder also complements Rushdie’s research on 16th century Indian history, art and culture for his next novel, a work-in-progress set partly in India and Renaissance Italy.

In a press conference at Emory, Rushdie said he "couldn't be more pleased" about his first extended relationship with a university. Emory's Manuscript, Archives and Rare Books Library is the new home of Rushdie's collected archives, nearly 100 boxes of materials spanning a career that has earned him recognition as a master of world literature. While he joked that "being surrounded by one's past in manuscript form is kind of like undressing in public," Rushdie said he will now find his holdings far more accessible than before. Until now, the materials have been stored in sealed cardboard boxes at a lock-up facility in England.

The archive includes Rushdie's private journals, personal correspondence, notebooks and computers, photographs, and manuscripts of all of his writings, including early unpublished work. Journals written while under the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini are currently closed to researchers. Rushdie said he plans to use this material to eventually write a memoir about his life in hiding.

"We look forward to Rushdie being one of the first users of the archive," said MARBL Director Stephen Enniss. A sampling of items from the Rushdie collection are on display at a small exhibit in MARBL's 10th floor office in the Woodruff Library.

"Rushdie embodies courage and hope in the face of tremendous challenges," Bahri said. "His writings speak to all of us who have suspected that life is stranger than the fictions that borrow from it."

The Sheth lecture is free and open to the public. Tickets are not required but seating is limited.