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Rushdie headlines Get Lit! in 2005

Salman Rushdie is the author of
Salman Rushdie is the author of "Midnight's Children." (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

Get Lit!, the little literary festival that could, continues to grow.

Controversial Booker Prize-winning novelist Salman Rushdie will headline a celebrity cast of writers for the 2005 event, which is scheduled April 17-23 in Spokane and Cheney.

Rushdie, the critically acclaimed author of “Midnight’s Children” and a dozen other works of fiction and nonfiction, is part of a lineup that includes humorist David Sedaris, poets Robert Bly and Rita Dove, and former National Public Radio anchor Bob Edwards.

“I’m excited,” says Kathy Hill, Get Lit!’s project coordinator. “I think it’s great for the Spokane area.”

Sponsored by the Eastern Washington University Press, Get Lit! began as a two-day literary arts festival in the fall of 1998. Since then, with the demise of Seattle’s Bookfest, it has become the Northwest’s premier book event.

Over the years, such writers as Lynda Barry, Jess Walter, Kim Barnes, Patrick F. McManus, Robert Wrigley and others have provided the festival with a sturdy base of talent. In 2003, Sedaris (“Me Talk Pretty One Day”) attracted a sellout crowd at The Met.

This year, Get Lit! jumped to a level of national celebrity by attracting such writers as Kurt Vonnegut, Dave Barry, Sarah Vowell and Garrison Keillor.

Writing about the 2004 festival, a reviewer for Seattle’s alternative newspaper The Stranger said: “This year’s Get Lit! lineup in Spokane was more impressive than anything Bookfest has ever put together.”

And now Rushdie is coming.

The Indian-born writer, who won Britain’s Booker Prize in 1981 for “Midnight’s Children,” is a British citizen known mostly for his fourth novel, “The Satanic Verses,” and the furor it caused. Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a Fatwa (a death sentence) on Rushdie for writing the book, which tells a complex story involving two men being “born again” after a plane crash.

According to The New York Times, the Iranian government “condemned the book as ‘a dirty conspiracy’ against Islam and urged followers of Ayatollah Khomeini around the world to take action against it.”

Rushdie lived in seclusion, under armed guard, until the sentence of death was lifted in 1998.

“(A)ll I’ve ever looked for is a return to real life, or at least let’s say the normal life of a professional writer, and that’s what I hope I can now very rapidly regain,” Rushdie said at the time.

Rushdie’s appearance is a good indication that, even with the departure of former Get Lit! director Scott Poole for Portland, Eastern Washington University is still committed to the annual festival.

“We are proud to build upon the tradition of literary excellence offered by the Get Lit! festival,” EWU President Stephen M. Jordan said in a press release. “The festival is a community celebration of literature.”

“I like this festival,” adds Hill. “I’ve been going to it for a number of years, and I just feel that it brings a lot of energy to our community. It highlights the talents that are local and regional as well as bringing in these national names that we otherwise would not get here.”

Sedaris, who rose to fame through his National Public Radio commentaries, is the author most recently of “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim,” which is No. 2 on The New York Times’ nonfiction best-seller list.

Bly is a much-published poet whose 1990 nonfiction book “Iron John” was the basis of what became known as the men’s movement. Dove, a former U.S. Poet Laureate, is an author of poetry and short fiction whose latest collection of poems is titled “American Smooth.”

And Edwards, who lost his job recently as host of NPR’s “Morning Edition,” is author of the biography “Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism.”

Tickets are not yet on sale for Get Lit! 2005. Ticket prices for the 2004 festival ranged from $34 (for Vonnegut) to $55 (orchestra seats at the Spokane Opera House for Keillor).

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