Rushdie was airlifted to a local hospital, police said. His condition is unknown. An interviewer also suffered a minor head injury, police said.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul told reporters Friday that Rushdie is “alive” and “getting the care he needs.” She said a state trooper “stood up and saved his life and protected him as well as the moderator who was attacked as well.
“Here is an individual who has spent decades speaking truth to power,” the governor said of Rushdie. “Someone who has been out there unafraid, despite the threats that have followed him his entire adult life it seems.”
Rushdie was being introduced at about 10:45 am when the assault happened, according to a witness, who said he heard shouting from the audience. He said a man in a black shirt appeared to be “punching” the author. The witness, who was 75 feet from the stage, did not hear the attacker say anything or see a weapon.
Some people in the audience ran to render aid to Rushdie while others went after the attacker, the witness said.
Another witness told CNN there were no security searches or metal detectors at the event. The witness is not being identified because they expressed concerns for their personal safety.
The witness said the attacker “walked quickly” down an aisle and jumped on stage, approaching the author and “making a stabbing motion with his hand repeatedly.”
In a statement the nonprofit education center and summer resort said it is “coordinating with law enforcement and emergency officials on a public response following today’s attack of Salman Rushdie on the Chautauqua Amphitheater stage.”
Writers such as Stephen King and JK Rowling expressed well wishes for Rushdie via Twitter.
Furor over ‘The Satanic Verses’ hounded Rushdie
The 75-year-old novelist — the son of a successful Muslim businessman in India — was educated in England, first at Rugby School and later at the University of Cambridge where he received an MA degree in history.
After college, he began working as an advertising copywriter in London, before publishing his first novel, “Grimus” in 1975.
Rushdie’s treatment of delicate political and religious subjects turned him into a controversial figure. But it was the publication of his fourth novel “The Satanic Verses” in 1988 that has hounded him for more than three decades.
Some Muslims found the book to be sacrilegious and it sparked public demonstrations. In 1989, the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called Rushdie a blasphemer and said “The Satanic Verses” was an insult on Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, and issued a religious decree, or fatwa, calling for his death.
As a result, the Mumbai-born writer spent a decade under British protection before the Iranian government announced it would no longer seek to enforce the fatwa in 1998.
CNN’s Paul Murphy and Mark Morales contributed to this report.