The renowned British Indian novelist was on stage preparing to deliver a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution when a man stormed the stage and stabbed him, according to an AP reporter who witnessed the attack. Another person who was due to interview Mr Rushdie was also attacked.
Mr Rushdie fell to the floor and the attacker was detained by police, witnesses said. He received treatment on stage and a video later showed him being taken by stretcher to a medical evacuation helicopter.
New York state police said Mr Rushdie “suffered an apparent stab wound to the neck, and was transported by helicopter to an area hospital. His condition is not yet known.”
The interviewer suffered a minor head injury, police added, and a State Trooper assigned to the event immediately took the suspect into custody.
Elisabeth Healey, 75, who was in the audience, told the New York Times: “There was just one attacker. He was dressed in black. He had a loose black garment on. He ran with lightning speed over to him.”
Mr Rushdie was forced to go into hiding and faced death threats for most of his adult life following the publication of his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, which some Muslims decried as blasphemous.
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then the Supreme Leader of Iran, issued a fatwa against the author, calling on Muslims to kill him, as well as his editors and publishers.
The novel is centered around two Indian Muslim protagonists living in England and satirises religion and the concepts of good and evil. The novel, which is heavy in Mr Rushdie’s magical realist style, recounts several episodes from Prophet Muhammad’s life.
Responding to news that his book had been banned in India, Mr Rushdie said “the book isn’t actually about Islam, but about migration, metamorphosis, divided selves, love, death, London and Bombay.”
In an interview with BBC Radio 4, he once said of the fatwa: “Frankly, I wish I had written a more critical book. I’m very sad that it should have happened. It’s not true that this book is a blasphemy against Islam. I doubt very much that Khomeini or anyone else in Iran has read the book or more than selected extracts out of context.”
Nonetheless, Mr Rushdie was forced to be accompanied by personal protection for many years. Christopher Hitchens, the late author and close friend of Mr Rushdie’s, said of one visit to his home: “When he was staying at my house back at Thanksgiving of 1993, so were about a dozen heavily armed members of the United States’s finest anti-terrorist forces.”
Iran’s government later backed away from the fatwa, allowing Mr Rushdie to live more in the open in recent years.
Mr Rushdie grew up in Bombay, India, and came to Britain at age 14. He graduated from King’s College, Cambridge University, with a degree in history.
His second novel, Midnight’s Children, published in 1981, was awarded the Booker Prize.