Supporting our author, Salman Rushdie

Tom Weldon
Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie photographed by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

We have been deeply shocked and appalled by the violent attack on Salman Rushdie, one of the world’s finest writers and storytellers and our long-time author, while he was speaking at the Chautauqua Institution in New York on Friday. We are relieved that he is stabilising in hospital and on the road to recovery.  

There are only a handful of colleagues left at Penguin Random House UK who worked at Penguin in 1988 when The Satanic Verses were first published.  It was a terrifying time for everyone, and particularly his publishing team.  However, it was also a landmark moment when we were acutely and painfully reminded of the enormous power and responsibility of what we do. Our commitment to publish then was unwavering.  Our CEO at the time, Peter Mayer, said that what was at stake “would affect the future of free inquiry, without which there would be no publishing as we knew it”.  Those words feel particularly resonant and horribly prescient in the light of Friday’s terrible events.

Since then, Jonathan Cape, an imprint of Vintage, have been proud to be Salman’s longstanding UK publisher. Indeed, Cape published Salman’s very first novel, Grimus, in 1975, and were behind the hugely successful Midnight’s Children in 1981: the book which catapulted him to literary fame, selling over one million copies and creating a watershed moment for postcolonial literature in English. Over the past three decades the team has worked closely with him to publish over 15 further books, including his most recent fiction title, Quichottewhich was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2019. 

In the face of terror and extremism and a decade in hiding, Salman has remained steadfast in his beliefs and his deep commitment to free speech.  Standing up for the rights of free expression, particularly in the face of threats to one’s life, requires immense – and unimaginable – commitment and courage.  

We come to work united in the belief that books and reading have the power to change lives.  Tragically, this weekend was an abhorrent reminder of that power – and responsibility – and why we must continue to defend, unequivocally, our commitment to freedom of expression and the right of our authors to tell stories and share ideas.    

Books play a central role in cultural discourse and readers should be able to access different perspectives to help them navigate the world around them. We must never pursue controversy for its own sake, but we should also not have the fear of it prevent us from publishing. 

At Penguin Random House, we are nothing without our authors.  Our role is to help to bring their stories and ideas to life and to reach as wide an audience as possible. This weekend’s distressing events are an important reminder of the courage and commitment of our authors, and the publishers who work alongside them.  

It seems appropriate to end with two quotes from two of our authors.  The first from Sathnam Sanghera, author of Empireland, from his piece in the Times on Saturday: 

“It seems to me that it would be a victory against the malignant forces that currently have Rushdie in hospital, to switch our focus back to his work.  To remind ourselves that picking up a book, and reading it, can be an act of resistance and hope.”

And, of course, Salman should have the last word:

"Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself."

Tom Weldon

CEO of Penguin Random House UK

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