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Salman Rushdie | Biography


British-Indian author Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie was born on June 19, 1947, a few months before Indian independence, in Bombay, British India—a city now known as Mumbai. His parents, a successful Muslim Indian businessman and a Bombay school teacher, sent him to a private school in Bombay and later to an English boarding school. He continued his education at the prestigious King's College at the University of Cambridge, focusing on history, and eventually received a graduate degree from Cambridge. As an Indian-born British citizen, Rushdie's own sense of identity, somewhat like the characters he creates in The Satanic Verses, was shaped by this dual identity.

After a brief job as a writer of television programs in Pakistan, he returned to England, worked for an ad agency, and worked on his first novel Grimus, which was published in 1975. It fell flat, but Rushdie recovered well: his second novel, the 1981 Midnight's Children, was a great success. It garnered several important book awards, including the Booker Prize for Fiction, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and an Arts Council Writers' Award. He continued writing, publishing first the novel Shame (1983) and The Satanic Verses (1988). Little did he know at the time of its publishing that The Satanic Verses would change his life forever.

One of the plot lines of The Satanic Verses is a retelling of the life of the prophet Muhammad. Although the novel was praised by critics and won awards, including the Whitbread Novel Award, the subject matter proved problematic among some Muslims due to its unflattering portrayal of the Muhammad-like character, Mahound. The book was denounced as blasphemous, and, in some Islamic countries, banned. In 1989 the main religious leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa, or official decree, that offered money for Rushdie's murder. Rushdie was forced to go into hiding for nearly a decade, though he did not stop writing. In 1998 Iran said it would not follow through on the fatwa, and Rushdie emerged once more into public life. Throughout these unexpected trials, he produced a number of novels, nonfiction, essays, and children's books. His work appears in over 40 different languages, and he holds honorary doctoral degrees from eight institutions. His list of recognitions for writing is lengthy, including being Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Distinguished Fellow in Literature at the University of East Anglia, the Austrian State Prize for European Literature, the Aristeion Literary Prize, and the Best of Bookers award for Midnight's Children.

In 2007 Rushdie was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his contributions to literature.

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