The Double Standard for Immigrant Authors
The publication of his fourth novel "The Satanic Verses" in 1988 led to violent protests in the Muslim world for its depiction of the prophet Mohammad. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a death fatwa against Rushdie, which sent him into hiding for nearly a decade. Rushdie weathered countless death threats and many assassination attempts.
In June 2007, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth. In 2008 he became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was named a Library Lion of the New York Public Library. In addition, "Midnight’s Children" was named the Best of the Booker—the best prize-winner in the award’s 40 year history—by a public vote. In 2008, The Times of London ranked Rushdie thirteenth on their list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945."
Question: As an immigrant living in England, do Indians question your authenticity to write about India?
Salman Rushdie: There can be that kind of resentment, and certainly writers in India sometimes feel that writers of the Indian Diaspora get a disproportionate share of the attention. And those writers who have made their lives in Bombay or Delhi or Calcutta or et cetera are paid less attention.I just think this subject of authenticity, which has become much discussed is a kind of fake subject in a way because if you think about it, western writers have always given themselves the right to go live anywhere they feel like. You know? I mean when Ernest Hemingway went to live in Paris nobody said well he stopped being and American writer. When Scott Fitzgerald was living in the south of France same thing. Gertrude Stein, whatever it might be. There is such a long history of American writers going to live elsewhere and still being obviously American writers. Or not just where they live, but also subject matter. American writers have always given themselves the freedom to write about anything they feel like writing about. If John Updike wants to write a novel set in Africa, he does. If Saul Bellow wants to write a novel set in Africa, he feels free to do so. Whereas sometimes if the reverse happens, if a third-world writer wishes to set a novel in Illinois, he might be asked what he thinks he is doing. And that is a hangover, I think, of a kind of cultural colonialism that again I think that is fading away. But I think there is no reason why writers from anywhere in the world shouldn’t allow themselves those same freedoms, to live where they like and to write about whatever they choose to write about. So the only question in the end is, is it any good and that should really be with books. It is the only interesting question.
Recorded November 12, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler
Western writers have always given themselves the freedom to write about any subject. But if a writer from the Third World wanted to write a book set in Illinois, people would question that decision.
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