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Writers gather in support of author Salman Rushdie

STORY: Organized by the New York Public Library, PEN America, and Penguin Random House, the event featured writers like Gay Talese, Amanda Foreman, Paul Auster, Andrew Solomon, Kiran Desai, and others.

“I am here because Salman Rushdie’s words matter. And I am here because today he cannot say those words to you, but we can,” said poet Reginald Dwayne Betts as he addressed the crowd from the library steps.

“Freedom of speech is one of the most fundamental, important universal rights that we all should insist upon,” Iranian-American writer Roya Hakakian told Reuters.

The authors read excerpts from Rushdie’s lectures, essays and novels, including “Midnight’s Children” and “The Satanic Verses.” Others shared reflections on their friendship with Rushdie.

PEN America supporters stood in a line in front of the speakers, holding up black and white posters with Rushdie’s photograph, quotes from the author, and the hashtag #StandwithSalman.

The attack on Rushdie came 33 years after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iran's supreme leader, issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling on Muslims to assassinate the author a few months after "The Satanic Verses" was published.

Rushdie sustained severe injuries in the attack, including nerve damage in his arm, wounds to his liver, and the likely loss of an eye, his agent said. But his condition has been improving since the weekend, and he was taken off a ventilator.

“I think that the attack on Salman, after the fatwa had lain 30 years without being realized, represents an increasing hostility toward independent thought and freedom of expression,” said author Andrew Solomon.

Writer Mark Wish told Reuters he was worried about the "chilling effect" the attack could have on all writers.