2015 Chicago Tribune Literary Prize
awarded to SALMAN RUSHDIE
Saturday, November 7, 2015
UIC Forum, Main Hall AB
It’s long been a dream of mine to meet Salman Rushdie but I’d begun to think it wasn’t meant to be. There’ve been several near misses, events I couldn’t make for one reason or another, so when I saw he was coming to Chicago to receive the 2015 Chicago Tribune Literary Prize, hell if I was going to miss that. Not this time.
Tickets were $ 20, general admission, so I had a romantic idea I’d get there early, squat in front and bask him in rays of my adoration. Didn’t quite work out that way. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t as good as I’d built it up in my mind. In my head he’d be right there above me, onstage. Looking down he’d see one glowing face, beaming love and adoration, the rest of the audience obscured. His heart would melt, observing the positive flow of light and love exchanged between us. At that moment he’d realize this is the most important moment of his life…
It’s about an hour from my place way out in the suburbs to the UIC area, in good traffic. Leaving home at 8:00 for a 10:00 event provided me with a safe window, no worries. Things were good, no delays I didn’t expect. So there was construction. So isn’t there always. Three-quarters of the way down, I started hearing this flapping noise, something slapping against the side of the van. The sound of something rapping, flapping, knocking at my van door.
Only this, and nothing more.
I felt paranoid, convinced a thing of great import had broken free from the nether regions of my van, and that the car had begun beating itself to death in a frenzy. My engine would die shortly, I just knew it, leaving me spinning out of control, only to die in a fiery crash never having met Salman Rushdie. Vile fate!
Turns out, it was the belt of my trench coat, flappy flapping merrily, as I sped down the expressways. The belt of my trench coat sticking out the driver’s side door. Not too embarrassing, now, is that. Knowing how I love making serious fun of idiots when this happens to them, Karma bitch-slapped me in return. I guess it’s only fair. And it could have been far, far worse.
Fortunately, I made it to UIC with time to spare, found a parking garage on Maxwell Street, reached the venue and took the best seat I could find, behind all the VIPS and press. Not bad. Plus, there were screens. Never mind my camera couldn’t handle the distance; I could see just fine.
If you haven’t heard Rushdie speak, he’s inspirational beyond what you may already imagine. He spoke on freedom of speech, on his writing and magical realism in general, on books and reading and how young people today are doing just fine on that front, thanks. They are reading and they’re reading a lot. Plus, the book is going nowhere; the internet has not, will not kill it.
He was inspirational, positive and painfully honest about how much religious fundamentalism and hatred have hurt him, how terrifying it was to be slapped with a fatwah, how much impact that had on his life. To this day, is he safe? The answer, as well as can be determined. So he lives his life, he makes appearances and fights for freedom of speech wherever and whenever he can.
It’s for this the Chicago Tribune awarded him its Literary Prize.
I recorded lots of snippets from the roughly hour-long interview he had with Chicago Tribune editor Bruce Dold, snippets I’m still uploading to YouTube. Because it’s time consuming, and because I want to get this post uploaded soon, I’m going to go ahead and finish those as I can, then post separately. I may even type up the transcripts. We’ll see how I feel.
One thing about the event I’m left to puzzle about is the almost complete lack of interest most attendees showed in having Rushdie sign their books. I zipped straight to the signing room, cutting ahead of most of the crowd by use of a door hardly anyone else seemed to notice, so I made it there very quickly. Most people just walked right out the door, not bothering to attend the signing. Do they meet Booker Prize winning, humanitarian icons so often they can’t be bothered greeting them in person? Or maybe the prospect’s daunting, maybe people shy away. I don’t know. But I wasn’t about to miss that. I didn’t drive all the way down to the city, belt flapping in the breeze, to listen and run.
I was bound and determined to talk to this man, wringing every bit of experience from the event. I may never meet Salman Rushdie again. Who knows? Besides, I wanted that autograph and wanted it badly. I wanted it in Midnight’s Children, the Booker of Bookers.
And get it I did.
Just as I wasn’t about to squander my brief moment with Mr. Rushdie, I wasn’t about to miss taking an illegal picture or five. The security guards told me to knock it off but I didn’t care. It was my plan all along to play goober, taking photos until told otherwise. It’s easier to ask forgiveness after than permission before, an old adage that’s inarguable. What were they going to do, take my phone and stomp on it?
I had my moment in the sun with Rushdie. In the course of the interview, he mentioned the sorts of wordplay he’d enjoyed with Amis and Hitchens and all that group, told the story of how they played with the names of famous novels, making them “less than great,” things like The Good Gatsby, Toby Dick, etc. Wanting an in with him so badly, something I could say to have his attention for three seconds if no more, while he was leaning over to sign my book, I leaned over, too, and said:
“The Selfie of Dorian Gray…”
Friends, HE LAUGHED.
I MADE SALMAN RUSHDIE LAUGH.
Does it get better than that? Because I don’t think it does.
What a day. What a stellar day. I heard Salman Rusdie speak about truth and literature and what matters in life, saw him presented with an award and even talked to him, if ever so briefly. Flapping trench coat belt aside, to me it’s all pretty priceless.
Afterward, I may have gotten a bit lost navigating the city but my beautiful Chicago capped it off brilliantly, just as I figured it would. An event worth waiting for, in so many ways, and a bucket list wish fulfilled.
Thank you Chicago Tribune, UIC and The Unabridged Bookstore for a memory to last a lifetime.
And, lovely city of Chicago, thanks for blocking my GPS signal, so I’d get lost, yet still manage to find this.
Right now, at this single moment, all’s right with the world.