Salman Rushdie, the Maverick Who Lived

On the award-winning novelist’s birthday, we revisit how his writing molded the literary imagination of hundreds of millions.

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Salman Rushdie, 2019 Booker Prize shortlisted author, at the Cheltenham Literature Festival 2019 on October 12, 2019 (David Levenson/Getty Images)

Mehr Singh


June 19, 2023


12 min

On a 1990 episode of 60 Minutes, host Mike Wallace interviewed a man who, 20 months prior, was effectively given a death sentence. The Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran had deemed then-43-year-old author Salman Rushdie’s book, The Satanic Verses, an affront to Islam, and declared that Rushdie must die for his transgressions.

“Somewhere in London, no one but Scotland Yard knows exactly where Rushdie [is]...moving to another [flat] every time Scotland Yard thinks it is prudent,” Wallace said. Rushdie then appears, appearing calm, donning his signature coke-bottle glasses and wispy hair. When Wallace asked how he spent his time, Rushdie responded, “I try and create a day which is as like the ordinary working day of a writer as I can. I mean, after all, writers are people who sit alone in rooms.” 

Those uninitiated to Rushdie’s work are drawn to his veil of mystique, a fatwa-shaped dark cloud that encircles him “like sexy pixie dust,” as the novelist joked on a 2017 episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm titled “Fatwa! The Musical.” But for generations of readers, the inimitable, Indian British American writer is not just associated with his fatwa or the recent attack that left him without sight in one eye. He remains a creator of countless worlds and a wizard at words.

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