Ahmed Salman Rushdie was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) on 19 June 1947, two months before India declared political independence. The only son of a prosperous Muslim family, Rushdie was educated at a private school in India before attending Rugby school in England and later King’s College, Cambridge to study History.
After graduating, Rushdie gained his first professional writing experience as an advertising copywriter, where is said to have been behind some of the most well known British catchphrases including the cream campaign, ‘Naughty. But nice.’
While here Rushdie began to work on fiction, before taking time out in 1969 to write his first, unpublished, novel on Indian themes. His first published novel, Grimus, a part science-fiction tale, appeared in 1975. While it was not very successful with the critics or the public, Rushdie used the £700 publisher’s advance to travel around India for as long as possible. It was here, amidst the heat and the hostels that Midnight’s Children, a novel about India and about childhood, was born.
Despite an unenthusiastic initial publisher’s report of Midnight's Children suggesting that ‘the author should concentrate on short stories until he has mastered the novel form,’ Rushdie’s second novel, published in 1981, slowly met with literary acclaim. The academic and literary critic Malcolm Bradbury proclaimed it 'a new start for the late-twentieth-century novel,' and it won multiple awards for fiction, including the Booker Prize, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, an Arts Council Writers' Award and the English-Speaking Union Award. In 1993 and 2008, it was also awarded the Booker of the Bookers, and the Best of Bookers, voted as the best novel to have received the prize during the award’s first 25 and 40 years.
However, Midnight’s Children was not universally met with applause. In 1984 Indira Ganhdi, then Prime Minister of India, brought a legal action against the novel claiming to be defamed by a single sentence in the penultimate chapter, 'A Wedding', which seemed to suggest that Mrs. Gandhi was responsible for the death of her husband through neglect. The case was eventually settled out of court with Rushdie agreed to remove the offending sentence.
Rushdie discusses the origin of storytelling with the NY Times
Rushdie’s work continued to court controversy with his next novel, Shame, depicting the political crisis in Pakistan and later, more prominently with the publication of his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, in 1988. Despite winning the Whitbread prize for fiction that year, the novel led to accusations of blasphemy against Islam and protests by Islamic communities around the world. Within weeks Rushdie began to receive threatening letters, riots broke out on the streets of India and Pakistan and copies of the novel were publically burnt in Bradford and Bolton, both homes to large Muslim communities. On 14 February 1989, the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling on all Muslims to execute Rushdie and all those involved in the publication of the novel. As a result Rushdie was forced into hiding under police protection for nearly a decade.
Apart from a statement issued in 1991 revoking his work and claiming he had renewed faith in Islam, (which he later referred to as a "deranged" moment at a time when he had hit rock bottom), Rushdie continually defended the freedom of expression throughout this time. Speaking at a surprise appearance on the fourth anniversary of the Fatwa he stated, ‘that is where our freedom lies, and it is that freedom, among other things, which the fatwa threatens, and which it cannot be allowed to destroy.’
The fatwa 20 years on: Salman Rushdie talks to the NY Times
Salman Rushdie continues to write and publish novels including The Moor's Last Sigh (1995), The Ground Beneath Her Feet, (1999), Fury (2001), Shalimar the Clown (2005), The Enchantress of Florence (2008) and his latest, a children's novel Luka and the Fire of Life was published in 2010. He is also the author of a travel narrative, The Jaguar Smile (1987), an account of a visit to Nicaragua, as well as another children's book, Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990), a warning about the dangers of story-telling, two collections of essays Imaginary Homelands (1991), and Step Across This Line (2002) and East, West (1994), a book of short stories.
Rushdie has continued to influence an entire generation of writers, particularly of post-colonial literature and is an Honorary Professor in the Humanities at M.I.T, and Distinguished Writer in Residence at Emory University, Atlanta. Rushdie’s novels have been translated into over 60 languages and Midnight’s Children was adapted for the stage in 2002 where it was premiered by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Production also began on a cinema adaptation of the novel in September, 2010.
Famously a film buff, Rushdie has also stepped in front of the cameras appearing in a pop video with Scarlett Johansson and as a cameo role in the film adaptation of Bridget Jones’s Diary. Married 4 times, Rushdie has two 2 sons, Zafar and Milan, and in 2007 he was awarded a knighthood for services to literature.
Salman Rushdie discusses his hopes for the film adaptation of Midnight's Children