The Gathering

Last week I attended The Gathering literary conference in La Plume, PA. It was an amazing four days of lectures, workshops, wine receptions and delicous food. I met wonderful people and was inspired, humbled and awed by the talks of Greg Maguire (author of Wicked); poet Nancy Willard; Loung Ung, who wrote the memoir First They Killed My Father, from a chilling five-year-old perspective of her early life in Cambodia; and the great Sir Salman Rushdie, who has received almost every major literary award as a writer, and who had to live in hiding for ten years during which there was a death sentence placed on him by the Ayatolah Khomeini. It has been almost eleven years since the lifting of the fatwa, and he would rather put that period of his life behind him, but people still question him about that time, and his book, The Satanic Verses, that created much ado about, really, nothing (the passage that caused the uproar was merely a dream sequence meant, Rushdie said, more for humor. It suggested the prophet Mohammed once prayed to a mystical bird goddess), and his publishers would love for him to write a memoir. But as he said, he didn’t become a writer to write about himself. For him, writing is as much about social change as it is invention. He believes it is more important than ever to write books that reveal what our governments try to hide from us, quoting Abraham Lincoln’s remark to Harriet Beecher Stowe : “So you’re the little lady that started this big war. ” Citing the scene in Saul Bellow’s, The Dean’s December, in which an incessantly barking dog demands, “For God’s sake, open the Universe a little more!” Sir Rushdie asserts that it is the artist’s weighty task to be the expander of the Universe. Amen.