What Lena Dunham Said at the New Yorker Festival

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 7 2012 7:42 PM

New Yorker Festival Dispatch: Lena Dunham

153621891
Lena Dunham at The New Yorker Festival on October 7

Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for The New Yorker

The New Yorker Festival’s “conversations” between cultural icons and magazine staffers can be odd spectacles. The best really do sound like conversations—even if one participant is holding a fistful of question cards and there happen to be several hundred eavesdroppers listening in—while the worst come off as overly scripted and stiff.

Sunday’s chat between Girls creator Lena Dunham and TV critic Emily Nussbaum—who has profiled the writer-director—was pleasingly intimate. Topics ranged from the controversial—such as complaints that her show lacks diversity and accusations of privilege and nepotism (“I had plenty of counterarguments,” Dunham said, “but it’s not elegant to share them”)—to the frankly gossipy. In the latter category, Dunham revealed what Louis C.K. said when he hugged her at the Emmys: “What you’re doing is really important.”

Advertisement

It shouldn’t be surprising that Dunham is able to distinguish between her own life and artistic choices and those of her creation, Girls protagonist Hannah Horvath; indeed it would be very disconcerting if she couldn’t. Even so, hearing her say that “Hannah doesn’t want the life I have now” turned the inside of my head into a broken-down Escher staircase.

Dunham has said before that many of the men on Girls, including Adam and Elijah, are based on her own real-life relationships. The real Adam “never became sweet,” she confessed today, adding that she still hears from men she once had flings with, and they claim to recognize themselves in her characters. “It’s amazing how many guys want to take credit for the complete dicks I write.” Using her own life as a template might be robbing the fictional world of a real scoundrel, though: “I don’t feel like there’s anyone in my life who’s a villain,” she said, “and I don’t want any villains in the show.”

Asked if Hannah—who, like Dunham, is working on a collection of essays—is a good artist, Dunham said: “We don’t know yet. She has potential, but her work habits are deplorable. She’s pretty caught up in what she should be doing.” But when the topic turned to Hannah’s frequent nakedness, Dunham put less distance between herself and her fictional stand-in. “Sometimes it’s a crutch,” she said. “It seems to make people laugh. It falls somewhere between artistic statement and personal preference.”

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

Do the Celebrities Whose Nude Photos Were Stolen Have a Case Against Apple?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

Future Tense

Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

Scotland Is Inspiring Secessionists Across America

The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant

The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant
Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 3:19 PM In Defense of Congress Leaving Town Without a New War Vote
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 18 2014 3:31 PM What Europe Would Look Like If All the Separatist Movements Got Their Way
  Life
Outward
Sept. 18 2014 4:15 PM Reactions to a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Reveal Transmisogyny
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 3:30 PM How Crisis Pregnancy Centers Trick Women
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 4:26 PM Global Oceans Break All-Time Heat Record; World on Pace for Warmest Year Ever
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.