By Anne Laufe
For the Hollywood Star News
On October 8th, in between an appearance on OPB’s “Think Out Loud” and an evening at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall as part of Literary Arts’ Portland Arts and Lecture series, award-winning author Salman Rushdie stopped by Madison High School to inspire the next generation of writers.
Rushdie, who won the Booker Prize in 1981 for his novel Midnight’s Children, spoke about his life as a writer and answered questions from the audience of nearly 100 students gathered in the school library.
Some students had prepared for his visit by reading Rushdie’s most recent novel, Luka and the Fire of Life, while those in journalism classes studied Rushdie’s essays and newspaper columns. All were well aware of the controversy the author had sparked with the publication of his book The Satanic Verses in 1988, when the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa and called for Rushdie’s death.
When one of the students asked how the fatwa had affected him, Rushdie responded, “It made me more aware of the risks and dangers that other writers have faced.” He said the experience also furthered his commitment to write the way he always wanted to, rather than in a frightened way or a defiant way.
Another student asked how to become a successful writer.
“What separates those interested in writing and writers is the determination to do whatever it takes,” Rushdie said. He noted that he didn’t achieve any kind of critical success with his writing until a dozen years after he left college. For writers, “it’s just something one has to do,” he said.
As for what inspires him to keep writing, Rushdie said, “I wouldn’t know what else to do. Writing isn’t just a job. It’s who I am.”
Madison junior Bella Trent posed the final question of the afternoon: What is the catalyst for a great writer?
Rushdie’s answer: a great subject, an unusual way of looking at the world and a unique relationship with language.
“Bella’s got all three,” one of her teacher’s commented quietly, looking pleased that his student had made a connection with the famous writer.
As Rushdie wrapped up the question-and-answer session, librarian Nancy Sullivan presented him with a collection of student writing, including copies of the school newspaper and literary magazine.