Jennifer Sky

Into the Land of OZ: Salman Rushdie

As an author, Salman Rushdie deals in magic, mayhem and miracles. He has written eleven novels including Midnight’s ChildrenShameThe Satanic VersesThe Moor’s Last SighThe Enchantress of Florence, and Luka and the Fire of Life. He is also the author of a book of stories, East,West, and a writer of non-fiction books, Imaginary HomelandsThe Jaguar’s Smile, and Step Across this Line. Rushdie holds honorary doctorates and fellowships at a dozen European and American universities and is the current Chairman of the PEN World Voices International Literary Festival. In 2007, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

In a glass-walled room at The New School, 12th Street sat down with Sir Salman to chat about mentors, exile, and going home.

12th STREET: I came across a monograph entitled The Wizard of OZ written by you for the British Film Institute. How did this film affect your writing?

SALMAN RUSHDIE: You know, I saw it at a very impressionable age. I saw it in India before I’d ever come to the West. The reason I chose to write about this film was because I had this odd personal relationship to it. I thought that gave me a point of view, because it’s a film that in many ways has an affinity to what is now called Bollywood (though it wasn’t called that then). I mean, it’s got song and dance numbers. It’s got this very high fantasy element, which a lot of Bombay movies also have. And it’s kind of, let’s say, expressionistic or grotesque. The characterization uses broad strokes in a way similar to the exaggerated characterization in Bombay films. It’s not subtle, it’s not pathological characterization. The Wizard of Oz is sort of like that too. And I was a kid, so that helped. I must have been ten or eleven when I first saw it. What I remember is that I came home and wrote a short story called “Over the Rainbow,” basically the first story I ever wrote, and it was about a boy like me in Bombay finding not the end of the rainbow, but the beginning of the rainbow, on the sidewalk, the rainbow arching up and away from him. It rather usefully had steps cut into it, rainbow-colored steps. I don’t remember the whole story, but I remember the boy starts going over the rainbow, and he meets various creatures, and you know, talking pianos, stuff like that. I wrote this out and gave it to my dad, and he got his secretary to type it up, so it was like five or six pages of typing, and my first story, and then he said, “I’ll look after it for you, because you’ll lose it,” so he looked after it, and he lost it.

STREET: This was before we had computers to save everything forever.

RUSHDIE: He always claimed to have it filed away safely, and then when he died, we looked for it, but never found it, so, it was mercifully lost. So The Wizard of Oz was sort of the beginning. It’s the thing that started me writing, and so that became my way into talking about it.

STREET: Also, this image of Dorothy sitting at the window when she’s watching the Wicked Witch of the West, with her green skin and her dark hair is a dream you had, and it’s actually a dream…

RUSHDIE: That goes into Midnight’s Childrenthen, yes.

STREET: And you didn’t realize that this image was in your sub-conscious sitting there, waiting to be claimed.

RUSHDIE: Yes, very strange that. That’s quite true. I’ve always had a good feeling about that movie, and so it turned into my book on the The Wizard of Oz, and then it turned into that ruby slippers story.

STREET: The short story you wrote that’s included at the end of your Wizard of Ozmonograph?

RUSHDIE: Yes. And actually both versions in this book are not the best versions, because the book was written in quite a hurry, and after it came out, I actually re-wrote the ruby slippers story. The version that’s in my collection of stories, East,West, is significantly different from the version in The Wizard of Oz. It has a different ending for a start. And I don’t like the version in here, and even the text of the essay here, because after it was published in my OZ book, The New Yorker took a big piece of it, and Robert Gottlieb was editing it, and he actually made a number of very interesting suggestions. In particular, he wanted me to expand the idea of friendship as being important in The Wizard of Oz, friendship instead of family. What Dorothy has is a weak family, but she makes friends who help her on her road. So I developed that idea. The version of the essay that I ended up publishing in Step Across This Line, is again, kind of different from the version in my OZ book and better I think. It’s a bit more thorough. And now, they are going to reissue this currently, I just heard that I’ve persuaded them to use not these texts, but to use the revised texts that exist in the essay in Step Across this Line and the story in East,West, so they’re going to do that now.

STREET: The fictional story you mentioned, “At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers” that first appears at the end of The Wizard of Oz, is set in a harsh future, and it seems that it could be happening in one of the towers in Blade Runner, or in a George Lucas film. Are you a fan of these sort of dystopian future tales?

RUSHDIE: Yes, I’m a huge fan of Blade Runner. “Ruby Slippers” is a story about the future in which the idea of home has become almost meaningless because the world is so unsafe. It’s not just that there’s no place like home; there’s no place that you can really call “home.” And then the idea that these slippers might actually be magical and able to take you somewhere that felt like home. I think “At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers” is almost my favorite story that I’ve ever written.

STREET: Really?

RUSHDIE: The revised version, with that ending. The version in the book of stories feels better; it feels more shapely to me. But if I had to pick one of my stories for someone to read, I’d probably ask them to read that one.

STREET: I loved it, and I immediately connected to it.


STREET: You had a very close friendship with Angela Carter and have spoken to most of her acclaim being posthumous.

RUSHDIE: Yeah. She was always seen as this marginal figure, not in the great mainstream of English literature. She was this antic, witchy figure on the edge, and there’s a bit of her that didn’t mind that, and there’s a bit of her that did mind it. She knew that she was very good, and she never made a big deal of it, but I think that she kind of resented not being given her due. She was very beloved by a lot of writers, and she was very important and encouraging. But she was important with Ian McEwan as well. He used to live very near her in South London, and I think when he was young, she gave him a lot of encouragement, etc. So a lot of us were very fond of her. She was a person completely without grandeur. She didn’t ever behave like the great writer. She treated everybody exactly the same, whether they were extremely celebrated or completely unknown. She didn’t give a damn. It was just a question of whether she liked them or not. She became one of my very closest friends.

STREET: How did you meet?

RUSHDIE: We had a friend in common. Somebody invited me to dinner, and she was sitting there. It was before I had published anything, and she was already quite a well-known and respected writer, who I read and who I really admired. At the time, I literally hadn’t published a story or anything. But we just hit it off, and she was very nice to me as a young writer, very encouraging and very shrewd, and very “no bullshit.” Angela didn’t ever, in any way, temper her opinions. She would just say what she thought, which could often be shocking. It made her very bad on television. She was very quirky in her behavior and very quirky in her dress. She kind of dressed like a Grimm’s fairy tale witch, and if you put a broomstick in her hand, it would be completely appropriate. So all of that added to this kind of crazy, old bat image that she had. But she was a great writer, and I think people saw it the moment she died. Within a couple years of her death, she became in England the most studied, modern British writer in universities. Suddenly everybody was studying her, and she became right at the center of any understanding of modern British literature. And she would have loved it. I just feel sad that she didn’t see that happen because she would have loved to think that her work was suddenly not at the edge, but at the heart. Where it belonged.

I wrote about Angela’s stories a while back. I wrote the introduction to her collected stories, and I think those Bloody Chamber stories are just miraculous. Miraculous. There’s so much force in so little space. I just wish… she did have this idea, that she never was able to do, but she wanted to write a full novel about the whole wolf thing. I think what happened was that Neil Jordan took all of these wolf stories when he wanted to make a film, The Company of Wolves, and Angela worked with him to stitch them together into a larger narrative, and somehow that became the wolf novel that she might otherwise have written, and by the time she was finished working with Jordan, I think she was done with it.

STREET: She had already told the story in a way?

RUSHDIE: Yeah. And I think, oddly, that we never got the wolf novel, which I always thought was the novel I wanted to read. Because that whole idea—part “Beauty and the Beast” and part, “Red Riding Hood”— she managed to take quite a lot of those classic tales and show how related they were. There’s one version in which the girl turns into the wolf…

STREET: Right. And then grandma has the paw, and grandma’s the wolf.

RUSHDIE: Exactly. She tried to look at all these variations of it. There’s a bit of “Snow White.” There’s three or four stories that are conflated into her little world of girls and monsters.

STREET: Have you ever read the Fairy Tale Review? I believe it’s dedicated to Angela Carter.

RUSHDIE: I haven’t seen that magazine. I’ll just write it down so I remember. The Fairy Tale Review.

STREET: Yeah, write it down. These are her children.

RUSHDIE: Well, that’s what I was saying, Angela’s influence on her professional colleagues was gigantic, and that was true in her lifetime, and she knew that. There were always people coming, people making pilgrimages to her door.

STREET: Really?

RUSHDIE: People would come sit at her feet a lot.

STREET: I would have loved that. That would have been amazing.

RUSHDIE: So she knew that there was a whole world of young creative people out there who valued what she was doing, and obviously a lot of women, a lot of young women writers, but not only women. I was enormously influenced by her…

STREET: I see similarities within your works.

RUSHDIE: No question. There are certain writers who give you permission to do certain kinds of things. You read what they do and you think, well if you can do that, then I can do this. Borges is another writer like that. There are writers who just open doors, saying you can go this way. Nobody says you can’t do this, you can’t do this. And I like that about her a lot. And also, we had very similar tastes, so when we would talk about books, we broadly speaking agreed about the kind of things we liked. She was a very good hater, Angela. She used to hate a lot of stuff. You can imagine what she would hate. She hated a sort of conventional English literature, kind of middle-class fiction, and she would fulminate at great length about things that she really loathed. It’s very interesting to be in the company of a wonderful writer who was also very dismissive. She was very good at saying, “That’s crap, don’t even think about that.” That allowed me to think that that was crap too, which I thought, anyway, but having Angela say it confirmed my view.

STREET: Well, as young writers, I think it’s imperative to have our mentors.


RUSHDIE: A couple of years ago I edited the annual Best American Short Stories. I must say one of the interesting things about doing that was being able to look at this wide range of little literary magazines. It’s easy to read the New Yorker or the Atlantic Monthly, and of course, it ends up that quite a few stories in the anthology do come from there because they have the pick of everything. There is a kind of cream of the crop thing that New Yorker stories are, that they’re in the New Yorker, because it’s the New Yorker, and everybody wants to be in that, but for instance, we also chose one or maybe two stories from Tin House. Then the extraordinary thing that I discovered is how important The Best American Short Stories is for the little magazines. We had two different smaller journals write to us after we selected stories from their journal, saying that as a result of the selection, we had actually saved the magazine—because it meant that they got another year’s funding. You realize that they are just so hand-to-mouth. The amount of money they are surviving on is so small. Having gone through this year of looking at the whole little magazine output of the country, which is a lot, you realize how the whole world of small magazine literature, which is the kind of seed ground, is so precarious, and how much interesting stuff there is in those magazines. You always have to end up with twenty stories, and really the only rule is that you shouldn’t choose more than one story by the same writer, which is sometimes difficult when you have about three incredible Alice Munro stories. I think there were three writers—there was Alice Munro, T.C. Boyle, and Steven Millhauser, who had groups of stories that were so good, it seemed unfair only to pick one of them. But then you have to. Otherwise, you’re not giving anybody else a chance. So I think we ended up having just about half and half. We had about ten stories coming from the famous magazines, and the other ten coming from tiny little places. And I thought that was very interesting that the quality in the small places was so high that literally half the anthology came out of it.


STREET: And you were working on a memoir?

RUSHDIE: Yes. This year I’ve got my memoirs coming out. It’s in the pipeline now. It’s coming out in September. 630 pages. It’s a monster book. It actually is the longest book I’ve ever written. I think Midnight’s ChildrenThe Satanic Verses, and the Ground Beneath Her Feet, are all much the same length, depending on the typography. The Ground Beneath Her Feet is probably slightly longest overall. It came out in book form at 570 pages. This is 630.

STREET: How long did it take you to write?

RUSHDIE: It took me two years, but I had to take the precaution of having a life first.

STREET: Memoir you live, and then you write.

RUSHDIE: It is true in a sense that non-fiction is a bit faster to write because you know the story already, and you only have to answer the how question. When you’re writing fiction, you have to answer a what question and a why question as well as a how question. What’s the story you are telling? Why are you telling it? How are you going to tell it? But when you’re writing non-fiction, you already know what the story is and why you are telling it. You just have to answer the hardest question, the how. I think the whole of literature is about how. There are only so many stories. The secret of the great books is always in the how. You could write Ulysses another way, and it wouldn’t be interesting: A guy walking around Dublin for a day with his wife being unfaithful to him.

STREET: It’s just a bummer book.

RUSHDIE: Yeah, slightly drunk, bit of a failer.

STREET: A super bummer.

RUSHDIE: Jewish advertising salesman in Dublin, his wife screwing around while he’s out on his daily rounds. Maybe that’s interesting, maybe not. It’s all in the how. So yeah, I think when you know who the characters are and what the story is, it does make it a bit faster, in terms of how many pages you write in a day. I was finding that I was writing maybe twice as much as I would if I were writing fiction.

STREET: What’s typical for you then?

RUSHDIE: I don’t know, typically, I’d be very happy if I got 1000 words, and I wouldn’t always expect to. But with this memoir, I was getting 1500-2000 words a day. It’s the same as writing fiction, in that there are passages you know exactly how to write because the moments have a sort of narrative in them, and all you have to do is write it down, and there are other bits where you have to find the narrative. I wanted it not to read like a diary. I wanted it not to read like a journal or confessional. I wanted it to read like a book by me. And the question was how. How do I tell this story which happens to be true, and in which I happen to be a character?

STREET: So are you going to turn into an angel or be falling out of a plane? Do you have magical powers? In real life, do you have magical powers?

RUSHDIE: I think you have to read the book to find out.


RUSHDIE: So that’s coming up, and we’ve been making this movie of Midnight’s Children. The film is shot. We’re in the middle of the last bits of post-production now. We need to do a bit of looping, post-synching dialogue, and then there’s some effects that aren’t finished yet. “There’s not a lot of special effects, but there are some, because it’s Midnight’s Children. They’re these magical children. And then the music isn’t completely composed yet, the score, so it probably won’t be finished finished until the spring. We deliberately financed it as an indie movie. We didn’t go to the studios because we didn’t want to give up the control really, and so then the festival circuit becomes important. We have to see if we can get it to Cannes, and to Venice. We almost certainly will be in Telluride, Toronto, New York, that little circuit in North America—I’m sure we’ll do that. So there’s going to be a lot of time this year getting the movie out there.

STREET: How did you get that book into 110 dialogue-driven pages?

RUSHDIE: Well, yes, it was difficult. You have to be, very, very, very, very, selective, and there’s a lot of characters and episodes which fell out of it. The question was: how could you find a kind of through-line to the story? The film is going to be two and a half hours long. It’s not short. But even in two and a half hours, you’ve got three generations, you’ve got a very large cast of characters. Even when it’s cut down, it’s still a very large cast of characters. How do you tell the story that you have to tell without which it’s not a film of Midnight’s Children? In other words, you’re asking: what’s the essence of the book? What is at the heart of this narrative? And so, it just went like that. The first draft of the screenplay that I wrote was 250 pages, and that felt tight, and it ended up at 132. It just took a lot of time, and there’s some very painful cuts, and I don’t know, I think in the end, there’s a certain moment when you have to let go of the idea that you’re adapting a book, and you have to make a film.

STREET: Make a film

RUSHDIE: And then just hope that the film will work on its own terms well enough that people stop asking comparison questions, and they just sit there and watch the movie and have a good experience.


STREET: Can you speak to the themes of exile and migration that seem to echo in a lot of your work?

RUSHDIE: Most of life, I’ve not felt like an exile, because exile is something that’s chosen for you. Exile is not willed; it’s something that happens to you. So most of my life, I’ve felt that the consequences of the act of migration I made—starting off in one country and then ending up settled first in one and now in another— that those consequences were largely positive. It didn’t give me the sense of uprootedness. It gave me the sense of roots in more than one place, and a sort of multiple rootedness, which I thought was helpful. Even if you just think inside the Indian sub-continent, most people of my generation (and certainly everybody of the generations that follow me) don’t know both India and Pakistan. They tend to know either India or Pakistan. Because of the political history between those countries, Pakistanis have spent very little time in India, and Indians have spent very little time in Pakistan. And because of the accidents of my family, being more or less fifty-fifty split between India and Pakistan, I grew up knowing both countries quite well, and so one of the things that Midnight’s Children and Shame were able to do, was that Pakistanis were reading the books as a way of understanding India, and Indians were reading the books as a way of understanding Pakistan. Just being able to bridge that border, I thought was a positive thing. It helped me as an artist to be able to write about both places with equal sense of belonging.

STREET: And English is not your native language?

RUSHDIE: No, my mother tongue is Urdu, but I grew up bi-lingual. In India, almost everybody grows up multi-lingual. Otherwise you can’t function. In Bombay, where I was brought up, there is Hindi, English, Urdu (my mother tongue), and there are the two regional languages, Marati and Gujarati, so you’ve got five languages right there in Bombay. Bombay is also a great employment magnet, so people come there from all over the country, and so you’ve got all those other languages too. So, if you don’t speak three or four languages, you can’t talk to anyone. Everybody grows up polyglot in that way. And I went to an English language school, so even if I wasn’t speaking English at home, I was speaking it at school all day. And then I went to University in England, and by the time all that finished, it was without any question my best language. But I always felt the migrant experience was helpful to me as an artist. It allowed me to have a broader range of material to write about. And also then I came to think of it as being a kind of almost defining metaphor of the age we live in—because we live in an age in which more people have moved across the face of the planet than has ever happened before in human history. Partly that’s to do with air travel, just the fact that travel is easy to do. There are machines which carry us. But it’s true that something like 95% of the migration of the human race has happened in the last 100 years. Some of that has been forced migration, people having to flee from persecution, and some of it has been economic migration, people have been moving towards jobs and so on. There has just been this extraordinary uprooting of the human race from its traditional way of being, which was to be in one place. It happens to be what happened to me, and it also seems to be what’s happening to the planet, so it gives me a way of connecting my experience to a bigger subject. So that remains very important to me as a writer.

And exile. Because of all the fuss over The Satanic Verses, there was a period of not quite ten years, when I wasn’t able to go back to India because they wouldn’t let me in. They just didn’t want to inherit the problem. They didn’t want to have to take on the security issues, and so on. And for me, that was horrifying, to have almost a decade of my life when I couldn’t go back to the country that had inspired my writing more than anywhere else, where I had family and friends and a very deep sense of belonging. That felt like exile. And the books I wrote during that time, Haroun and the Sea of Stories and The Moor’s Last Sigh, and the first half of The Ground Beneath Her Feet, which takes place in India—those felt like books of exile. It was not my choice not to go there. It was somebody else’s choice to prevent me from going there. And in many ways, I feel more proud of that writing than anything else I’ve done. All my life I wanted not to write the kinds of novels about India that outsiders would write. I wanted to write insider books that the people who were from there would recognize as being true. And one of the great joys about the reception of those early books was that people in India felt the books were in some way telling their story as well. I was very proud of that. But then I was in this position where I couldn’t go there, and my horror was that I would write books that felt out of touch, that people there would say, “You don’t know what’s really happening anymore.” And of the best reviews I had when The Moor’s Last Sigh came out, three or four friends of mine called me up and said, “You bastard, you must have snuck in here. You got in here, didn’t you? You’ve been traveling around India, haven’t you?” And I said, “No, I haven’t,” and they said, “Of course you have. How do you know all this shit?” And I thought okay, okay, thank you. That put something at rest because my great fear was that it would feel detached, that it would be wrong in some way. I talked to one of my close friends, the great Somali writer Nuruddin Farah. Nuruddin was exiled from Somalia for what, more than twenty-five years, because the then-dictator of Somalia, Siad Barre, would have killed him. He didn’t like something Nuruddin wrote. So Nuruddin knocked around for a quarter of a century, partly in England, partly in America, partly in other African countries, not able to go to Somalia. During that time he must have written ten novels, all of which were set in detail, inside Somalia, and none of them were set outside of it. I remember asking him, “How do you do it? How do you write about it when you haven’t been there for half your life?” And he said the thing that writers say, “I’ve got it here.” (Rushdie points to his chest.) “And they can’t take it away from you. Wherever I go, I’ve got it here.” I felt that. I still feel that about India. You know, the news is easy to find out. Now it’s elementary, with the resources we have to get information, piece of cake. The thing you can’t find out is what people are like, but that I have here (Rushdie points to his chest.) If I want to write an Indian character, I don’t need to ever go again. I know how to write about Indian people, and that’s, I think, what saved me in that period. But that felt like exile, and now I’m happy to say that for the last decade or so, I’ve been able to go to Indian again.

STREET: They just said, “Okay, you’re fine to come back now?”

RUSHDIE: There was a moment when they cracked, yeah. It corresponded to the threat against my life diminishing in general. It was an enormous relief. It was like being able to go back to the oasis in the desert.

STREET: Do you feel that India to you is home?

RUSHDIE: I think that the place where you were a child and grew up—there’s a way in which that’s always home. But it may not have anything to do with where you want to live.

STREET: Or eventually settle.

RUSHDIE: We all grow up in our parents’ home, and at a certain point, we all leave. We make a home. Home is where you come from, but home is also the place you make, and so I feel very much when I go back to India that it’s home, but I feel that about London too. I’ve probably lived in London longer than I’ve lived anywhere else, and I know it inside out, and a lot of my oldest friends are there. I’ve only lived in the US for twelve years, so I think I kind of qualify now as a local boy here as well. I feel at home here. I feel at home in London. And I feel at home in India as well. I don’t feel at home in the same in the same way in each place, but I feel at home.


STREET: You’ve spoken about the freedom of speech and the ability to offend and also how that corresponded with The Satanic Verses and the passion is garnered.

RUSHDIE: The thing about free speech is that if you’re lucky enough to live in a part of the world where you essentially have it, you don’t have to make a big deal about it. It’s just there. Why would you demand the right to speak freely when you already have it? I grew up in countries in which that was true. India now is somewhat more censorious now than it was when I was growing up, but back then it felt like an open democratic society, and then England, ditto. I thought as a principle it was a good thing, but it wasn’t something that I had to think about too much because there it was. The image I sometimes used was, if you have air to breathe, you don’t have to argue for the importance of having air to breathe. But if somebody starts turning off the air supply, you rapidly discover that it is a really good idea to yell about that and make sure that you get some air to breathe. I think that’s what happens when somebody tries to censor or ban or demolish your ability to write. If you don’t have air to breathe, you don’t live that long. And so I guess the whole episode of what happened with The Satanic Verses made me aware of the need to talk about freedom of speech. American PEN was very important to me in those years because they were very vociferous on my behalf. A lot of American writers under the umbrella of PEN were speaking up on my behalf. So when I came to New York, I got involved with PEN because it was just like giving back. I thought, this is what’s been done for me, and now maybe I can help to do this for other people.

We live in a world in which there are probably more writers in danger now than there were 100 years ago. All over the place. It’s easy to point the finger at the Islamic world—no question that’s true—but China is probably the most dangerous place for writers right now.

STREET: Absolutely.

RUSHDIE: And until recently, places like Burma were very dangerous, although there’s been a little softening there. There’s a lot of African countries, Zimbabwe, terrifying. You go up against Mugabe, you’re a dead man. And so, for places like PEN, which try and highlight those abuses and protect those writers, there’s always more work to do.

STREET: Do you feel like you were the domino?

RUSHDIE: No, because there were lots of people before me too. The story of persecution was not new. My case had its own particular oddities, but as I say, one of the things I’ve felt the need to do, because of the way in which the international community of writers stood up for me, really, is to now try and be part of that community when it’s mobilized on other people’s behalf, and being president of PEN was about that. Okay, if I’ve suddenly got this unusually well-known name for very bad reasons, then I may as well put that to work. Let me put it like this: if the chief executive of PEN tries to call a politician in another country to complain about a writer who has been detained, it would be very improbable that he would get the politician on the phone. But if I make the phone call, they come on the phone. That’s the difference. It means that you can get to talk to the person who can change something. There’s one case for instance, nine or so years ago, when an Iranian writer had fled to Australia and had been seeking asylum. For whatever reason, the Australian authorities didn’t accept that he was a genuine asylum seeker, and so they were about to deport him back to Iran, which would have had really very bad consequences for him. The Australian PEN people actually didn’t contact us in time. We didn’t hear about the case until the case was over. We heard about it when the appeal court had judged against him, and he was about to be deported. Then we heard about it. In theory, there was nothing to do—the judgment was over. But American PEN wrote a letter to the relevant judge, appealing for him to think again, and I signed the letter, and I think there’s no question that, because I signed the letter, the judge opened the case and allowed him to stay.

STREET: That’s great. From the dark comes the light.

RUSHDIE: Well it’s just like turning the thing. Take the weight of the thing coming at you, and you push it back. It’s using the momentum of the adversary.


STREET: What is the writer’s role in the world?

RUSHDIE: I don’t know. Every writer will tell you a different thing. And I don’t think there’s a role really. Plenty of writers don’t want a role in the world. Writers want to sit in a corner and do what it is they do and every so often publish a bit of it. Most writers are not naturally public people. They’re just not. And it would be really unfair to tell them they had to be. But there are some of us who have felt that ability to become engaged in public events. Shelley said about writers, that they were “the unacknowledged legislators of mankind.” And there’s what Stephen Daedalus said—it’s this unbelievably pompous remark—I go forth “to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race,” at the end of Portrait of the Artist… I think the greatest writers have often taken up a moral or political position, but there are also great writers who don’t want to. I think it’s not one of those things you can prescribe, say the writer’s role is X. You do what feels right to you. In my sense, I always was interested in politics, so I was always sort of involved in it, writing about it anyway. And then politics got interested in me.

STREET: Be careful what you wish for.

RUSHDIE: Yeah, exactly. And so I’ve remained somewhat involved in all this stuff. I find as I get older that often I just want to retreat from it a little bit. I’ve got books to write, and I’m not a kid anymore, and how long have I got to do it? I’d actually quite like to focus on the work, and get the books written.

STREET: So the memoir is coming out, the film is done. What’s next?

RUSHDIE: I’m going to write this TV series for Showtime. So I have to write this crazy, paranoid, political science fiction TV series called The Next People. Once we get to the end of the summer, September, October, November, December, I’ve got to just sort of draw a line through the calendar, with the book coming out and the movie coming out, etc. It’s just gone. The question is what I can do with the first half of the year. What I’m trying to do is at least get the pilot to the point where we’ve got a green-lit script. I have to talk to them in February about the kind of treatment for it, and then I will write a draft, and then I’ll write another draft, and then so hopefully, by the summer, we’ll have got to a point where they’ve agreed to make a particular one-hour script.

STREET: I can’t wait to see it.

RUSHDIE: Here I am, I’ve spent most of my life sitting in a room writing novels, and suddenly I’ve got these three very big projects and none of them’s a novel. A memoir and a movie and a TV series.

STREET: In one year.

RUSHDIE: In one year. Ridiculous.