Author Salman Rushdie was off a ventilator and able to speak despite the stabbing attack against him, his agent confirmed to The Associated Press on Saturday night.
Rushdie, 75, was attacked Friday morning in Chautauqua, N.Y., by a man who rushed the stage where the author was to speak, New York State Police said. Rushdie was transported to a local hospital by helicopter with a stab wound to the neck and chest.
Author Aatish Taseer had earlier tweeted on Saturday that Rusdie was “off the ventilator and talking (and joking)”. The tweet has since been deleted. On Saturday night, Rushdie’s son Zafar wrote on Twitter: “Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself.”
Rushdie’s agent said on Friday that the author had undergone surgery and was on a ventilator, with a damaged liver, severed nerves in his arm and that he could lose an eye.
A 24-year-old man has been charged with attempted murder. Hadi Matar, of Fairview, N.J., has been charged with attempted murder and assault. On Saturday afternoon, Matar pleaded not guilty, AP reported. He is being held without bail, police said.
The world-renowned author was attending a lecture series at the Chautauqua Institution as a guest speaker when the incident occurred. According to a police statement, a male suspect charged the stage and attacked Rushdie and an interviewer at approximately 11 a.m. ET. The suspect was immediately taken into custody.
State Police Maj. Eugene Staniszewski said that the interviewer, Henry Reese, was treated at a local hospital for a minor head injury and has since been released.
Reese is the co-founder of City of Asylum, a residency program for writers in exile, and was on stage with Rushdie during the attack.
Chautauqua Institution President Michael Hill said security needs for events are assessed on a case-by-case basis.
“I would say we take our security measures very, very seriously,” he said at the news conference.
The institution said it had a state trooper and sheriff’s officer in attendance because of how important this particular event was going to be. Matar had purchased a pass to the event like other attendees, Hill explained.
“What we experienced at Chautauqua today is an incident unlike anything in our nearly 150-year history,” Hill said. “Today, now, we’re called to take on fear and the worst of all human traits; hate.”
Rushdie was visiting the institution to discuss with Reese how the United States serves as an asylum for writers in exile, according to the Chautauqua Institution’s event page.
Rushdie has written 14 novels, including The Satanic Verses, one of his most popular books, which resulted in death threats against the author from Iran’s leader in 1989.
Beyond his work as a writer, Rushdie has long championed the importance of freedom of expression. He served as the president of PEN America between 2004 and 2006 and then as chairman of the PEN World Voices International Literary Festival for 10 years.
PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement that the organization was shocked to learn about the attack. Rushdie had emailed her just hours before the attack to help place writers from Ukraine seeking asylum.
“Salman Rushdie has been targeted for his words for decades but has never flinched nor faltered,” Nossel said. “He has devoted tireless energy to assisting others who are vulnerable and menaced.”
President Biden said on Saturday that he and first lady Jill Biden “are praying for his health and recovery.” Biden said Rushdie “stands for essential, universal ideals. Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear. … We reaffirm our commitment to those deeply American values in solidarity with Rushdie and all those who stand for freedom of expression.”
Additional reporting: Robbie Griffiths