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UK: In London: The British Book Awards Honor Salman Rushdie

Rushdie: ‘Quite Remarkably Alarming’

Wednesday 17 May 2023, by siawi3


In London: The British Book Awards Honor Salman Rushdie

May 15, 2023

Near the conclusion of the British Book Awards’ gala evening in London, the ‘Nibbies’ offer an unexpected honor for Salman Rushdie.

Salman Rushdie speaks from New York to the British Book Awards audience in a video acceptance of his special Freedom to Publish award on Monday evening. Image: British Book Awards

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief

Rushdie: ‘Quite Remarkably Alarming’

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, the British Book Awards, also called the Nibbies, annually hand out one of the largest arrays of book and publishing awards in the international business, utilizing a corps of almost 50 jurors. The honors fall into two main categories of “Book of the Year” honors and “Book Trade” winners. Consumers, of course, may be most interested in the book awards, while the industry players who fill the hall for the show each year primarily follow the trade accolades.

The 2023 edition tonight (May 15)—held once more in the searchlight-strafed ballroom at Mayfair’s Grosvenor House and streamed live—included a previously unannounced Freedom to Publish honor for Salman Rushdie, obviously well-chosen and avidly received.

As many of our readers will recall, Rushdie was ferociously attacked and severely wounded on August 12 last year while onstage at the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York. He suffered injuries so extensive that he was initially in critical condition, requiring surgeries and a long effort at rehabilitation. (Here is our coverage of the International Publishers Association’s response to the late-summer attack.)

Appearing tonight in a recorded video from New York to accept the award, Rushdie seemed to be in good color, if speaking softly and looking a bit gaunt. He gamely expressed his thanks to the British Book Awards “for choosing me to receive this important recognition,” sponsored by the Index on Censorship campaign.

In introducing the award in London tonight, author Monica Ali had said, in part, “Nobody has been more courageous, more steadfast, more brilliant in the pursuit of truth and artistic freedom.”

And in his taped address, provided to us by The Bookseller in full, Rushdie said:

“We live in a moment, I think, at which freedom of expression, freedom to publish, has not in my lifetime been under such threat in the countries of the West.

“We live in a moment, I think, at which freedom of expression, freedom to publish, has not in my lifetime been under such threat in the countries of the West.”
Salman Rushdie, British Book Award Winner

“Obviously, there are parts of the world where censorship has been prevalent for a long-time, quite a lot of the world—Russia, China, in some ways India as well. But in the countries of the West, until recently, there was a fair measure of freedom in the area of publishing. Now I am sitting here in the United States, I have to look at the extraordinary attack on libraries, and books for children in schools. The attack on the idea of libraries themselves.

“It is quite remarkably alarming, and we need to be very aware of it, and to fight against it very hard.

“It has also been alarming to see publishers looking to—how shall I put this?—bowdlerize the work of such people as Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming, and I have to say that the idea that James Bond could be made politically correct is almost comical. I think that has to be resisted. Books have to come to us from their time and be of their time. And if that’s difficult to take, don’t read it, read another book. Don’t try and remake yesterday’s work in the light of today’s attitudes.

“I know that room where you all are is full of people who are deeply committed to the principles of freedom of publishing and I am proud to receive this award, and I think I receive it on behalf of everybody fighting that fight.

“I did once receive a British Book Award back in 1995 for The Moor’s Last Sigh, so it is nice to have this one to keep it company. Thank you.”

This is only the second time that the British Book Awards regime has conferred this prize which, according to The Bookseller, “acknowledges the determination of authors, publishers, and booksellers who take a stand against intolerance, despite the ongoing threats they face.” The earlier use of this award, as noted in The Bookseller‘s writeup by Sian Bayley, was last year when the honor went to HarperCollins UK and its publishing director Arabella Pike “in recognition of their defense of [their] authors against interference from Russian oligarchs, and for their ‘robust defense of investigative nonfiction and publishing in the public interest.’”

Referring to tonight’s special award for Rushdie, longtime Bookseller editor Philip Jones said, “There can scarcely be a more important winner of this prize at a more important moment. Freedom to publish is about the right to read, write, speak, and hear without interference, and without the dire consequences so often now threatened by those who would restrict, censor, and circumscribe.

“More than most, Rushdie has lived his defiance, and continues to pay a huge price for it.

“His cause belongs to all of us, and The British Book Awards is delighted to honor him for it.”