I remember getting perfectly ticked off and putting down his novel for three months the first time I read Salman Rushdie’s work. It wasn’t because something had offended my ideas or beliefs, but that I felt as though he had played a trick on me. Designed as it was to twist expectations, I felt made a fool of, and why on earth do that to a reader who has bought your book and invested a lot of time reading with care.
After the irritation wore off, I realized the clever value of a technique like that, and I finished reading Midnight’s Children. That was 25 years ago, around India’s 50th birthday.
At recent news of the shocking attack on Rushdie at a peaceful reading hosted by Chautauqua Institute in western New York, I’m irritated all over again, but now at the profound ignorance that surrounds stories and their telling. That’s the only explanation that makes sense to me about such violence. Deep, deep ignorance.
Above is my favorite passage from Midnight’s Children. The way stories exist at the crossroads of meaning and purpose, the way we owe them our lifelong reflective energy in exchange for the pleasure and guidance they give, the way they pull us from solitude into subtle realities effortlessly blooms into clarity here.
PEN America published a collection of writers on the state of freedom of speech in India at its 75-year mark. Speaking up for writers and artists is important work if we expect to live in healthy societies.
Expectations are troublesome things. I get it, Rushdie.
I went to Saranac Lake last weekend for the Adirondack Center for Writing’s Kickass Lit Festival. Keynote address by Willie Perdomo, our current NY State poet laureate, affirmed for us all what we should already know: that writing stories and making art makes us targets.
I didn’t take photos at the events of this first annual event, but I will always cherish Perdomo’s reading from his poetry. “That’s my heart right there” in everyone close to me and in circles radiating outward. That’s why I create.