Salman Rushdie’s life and work on display at Emory University

Novelist Salman Rushdie spent years in hiding after his book “The Satanic Verses” garnered him international attention and death threats from the Muslim world, but now the author is the subject of a very public and personal exhibit at Emory University.

The Salman Rushdie Archive opens Friday at Emory's Robert W. Woodruff Library, and it gives the public an upclose view of his life and career.

The archive, curated by Emory's Associate Professor of English and Director of Asian Studies Deepika Bahri, employs multimedia platforms to tell Rushdie's story. On display are e-mails and written correspondence from the 1970s through 2006, and the exhibit includes letters between Rushdie and people such as U2's Bono and then-Sen. Barack Obama. Viewers can emulate his writing process with computers designed to replicate his former machines. Journals and appointment books describe his creative process and how he developed his characters and nonfiction works. Personal papers include financial, legal and family records. Rushdie's own "doodles" speak to his artistic nature, and viewers can also see photos of Rushdie from his childhood in India to his current hobnobbing with Hollywood. (His ex-wives include "Top Chef" host and model Padma Lakshmi.)

“From the moment I agreed to do this, I knew it was going to be sort of embarrassing," Rushdie said during a media tour of the exhibit. “The biggest issue for me in the whole discussion with Emory had to do with privacy and the boundaries of privacy … it’s not just my privacy at stake, but also other people."

Beginning in 1989, Rushdie lived in hiding for a decade after Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, ordered Muslims to kill the author of "The Satanic Verses," believing the fiction work was an insult to Islam.

“There was a period in my life where people said very nasty things about me," he said. "I thought during the time of the attack on that particular novel the best thing I could do is keep writing.”

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Credit: Elissa Eubanks

Credit: Elissa Eubanks

Emory’s archive, which is sponsored by the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, helps shape for viewers the time Rushdie spent underground. At that time, Rushdie wrote the children’s book “Haroun and the Sea of Stories” and the novels “The Moor’s Last Sigh” and “The Ground Beneath Her Feet.” The 62-year-old Brit is also known for works including “Midnight’s Children,” which won the British Booker Prize in 1981 and is now being made into a movie.

Emory officials first approached Rushdie about a potential archive when he gave the Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature at the university in 2004. He later joined the university as a distinguished writer in residence and teaches at Emory at least four weeks each year.

Rushdie, who was knighted in 2007, said seeing his work cataloged and on display brings him a step closer to writing about his controversial life.

"It’s my story, and at some point, it does need to get told," he said. "My instinct is that point is getting closer.”

The Salman Rushdie Archive may be viewed during library hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays; and noon to 9 p.m. Sundays. Please check ahead as library hours may change due to class schedules and events. The library is located at 540 Asbury Circle in Atlanta. For details, visit news.emory.edu/tags/topic/salman_rushdie/index.html or call 404-727-6887.

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