Emory Report
February 18, 2008
Volume 60, Number 20

Author’s spark
enlivens campus
At the heart of the novel is the human figure, Salman Rushdie has often reminded readers. And at the heart of the campus this month is the human figure of Rushdie, Emory Distinguished Writer-in-Residence, who is teaching, writing and having conversations about everything from Bono to Bombay.

“He’s fully engaged in what it means to be a part of the University,” said Rosemary Magee, vice president and secretary of the University. “Many people have commented on what a pleasure it is to run into him and chat.”

In addition to more formal appearances by Rushdie, Magee and Madison Dotson ’05Ox-’07C arranged a salon-style forum where students met with the author. “They asked him about everything from rock music to science fiction to religion,” Magee said. “He was very warm and generous with his answers. He seems to really be enjoying his time at Emory.”
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February 18, 2008
Rushdie: A writer’s art is no open book

By Carol Clark

Was Anne Hathaway Shakespeare’s model for Lady Macbeth? Did Shakespeare transpose his grief over the death of his son Hamnet to create a grieving son in “Hamlet?”

“We don’t know,” Salman Rushdie said in his recent public lecture “Autobiography and the Novel.” He noted that Shakespeare left few traces of himself behind: “No journals, no first drafts, no working notes, no laundry lists, no love letters.”

As a result, scholars are left only with the literature and gossips are entirely bereft. “Shakespeare can be endlessly speculated about,” Rushdie said. “Was Shakespeare good in bed is actually one of the great unanswered questions. Although I suspect the answer is, ‘Yes, damn it! He was probably good in bed, too.’”

Glenn Memorial repeatedly filled with laughter as Rushdie, Emory Distinguished Writer-in-Residence, both entertained and enlightened the sold-out audience.

He cited three 18th-century novels that were published anonymously: “Robinson Crusoe,” “Tristram Shandy” and “Gulliver’s Travels.”

“Just 250 years ago, it was possible for books to become famous and celebrated, as these novels were in their day, and for their authors to remain in the shadows,” Rushdie said. “Fiction was fiction, life was life. Two hundred and fifty years ago, people knew that these were different things. This is no longer the case.”

Charles Dickens marked a turning point, Rushdie said. “If Dickens did not totally invent the cult of the writer as a public personality, he certainly did a lot to popularize it. On his first speaking tour of America in 1842 — he liked speaking in America, because he was paid more here — he used his fame to become a passionate and prominent anti-slavery advocate and also spoke vehemently in favor of the establishment of international copyright laws. Above all, he became a legendary performer of scenes from his work.”

In today’s media-saturated age, readers are driven to wonder how the sensational details of a fictional work relate to the author’s own life, Rushdie said. He acknowledged that characters in his novels occasionally share qualities with himself and with people he knows, adding that this doesn’t make the books autobiographical. Details about a famous writer’s life may be intriguing, but they cannot explain the writer’s craft, he said.

“A life may offer some of the raw material for the work. It does not offer the spark, the thing that makes the creation real, the journey into the actual words,” Rushdie said.