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Dunham, Rushdie among big names at New Yorker fest

SHARE Dunham, Rushdie among big names at New Yorker fest
This Oct. 7, 2012 photo released by The New Yorker Festival shows author Salman Rushdie during The New Yorker Festival in New York.

This Oct. 7, 2012 photo released by The New Yorker Festival shows author Salman Rushdie during The New Yorker Festival in New York.

The New Yorker Festival, Todd France, Associated Press

NEW YORK — A year ago, not many people had heard of Lena Dunham.

This year, in a sign of her stunningly swift path to major fame, the young creator and star of HBO's "Girls" was one of the top draws of the weekend's New Yorker Festival, the annual gathering where fans of the magazine flock to hear their favorite authors, actors, directors, artists, and politicians interviewed, of course, by their favorite New Yorker writers.

Dunham, 26, whose appearance sold out in the first 20 minutes that tickets went on sale this year, was interviewed by New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum on Sunday, just as word of her seven-figure book deal was emerging, an essay collection to be published by Random House.

The actress also was nominated for multiple Emmys last month. She didn't win, but she did get a hug from comedian Louis C.K. at the ceremony, and she revealed in an awestruck voice Sunday that he'd said to her: "What you are doing is important."

"I dressed as you for Halloween!" she replied, according to Dunham's account. "You're too much," he shot back.

Dunham's every word, it seemed, was greeted with admiring laughter. Among her observations:

ON FANS: "I go to places and people talk to me. They're a great cross-section. I have three different rabbis in contact with me."

ON OLD BOYFRIENDS THINKING THEY'RE IN HER SHOW: "It's shocking how many guys would like to take credit for the (jerks, but a stronger word) I write!"

ON CRITICISM OF HER AND HER SHOW: "I've been in therapy since I was seven — I thought I had cornered the market on self-criticality."

ON ATTENTION PAID TO HER RECENT OUTING IN SHORT SHORTS: "Get used to it, 'cause I'm gonna live 'til 105 and I'm gonna show my thighs every day!"

ON DRIVING: "I don't drive. It's not going to happen. Some people are not meant to be mothers, and some people are not meant to drive."

As always, New Yorker lovers came from near and far to partake in the three-day festival, held at venues around town. The festival said it had ticket buyers this year in 45 states and 22 countries outside the U.S.

This being an election year, there was a healthy share of politics, including a panel on the women's vote that began with the promise it would be livelier than last week's debate between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

"I don't think anyone has altitude sickness here," quipped moderator Dorothy Wickenden, a reference to Obama's widely perceived listlessness in Denver.

The conversation got testy, though, on issues like abortion and contraception and their role in the election.

"Women don't want to be talked to from the waist down," said Kellyanne Conway, a Republican strategist and pollster, arguing that co-panelist Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, and other Democrats focused too much on those issues. "They want to be talked to from the waist up, where their eyes and ears and brains are."

A young woman rose from the audience to say she was trying to listen from the waist up, but that it was hard, given what she was hearing about issues involving the other half of her body.

Another high-profile guest at the festival was author Salman Rushdie, discussing "Joseph Anton," his new memoir about the fatwa declared on him in 1989 by Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Interviewed by New Yorker editor David Remnick, Rushdie recounted the difficult days just after the fatwa was declared, when he slowly realized that he would have to go into hiding for what turned out to be a decade.

He also talked about the cathartic experience of finally writing his story.

"I wanted to slam the door on those years, but I always knew I would write it one day," Rushdie said. "I thought if anyone was going to write it, I wanted to write it first."

The Rushdie session was not without humor. In a conversation about freedom of expression, the author of "The Satanic Verses" and "Midnight's Children" allowed that one of his least favorite books is the racy trilogy "Fifty Shades of Grey," a page or two of which he read on Amazon.

"I've never read anything so badly written that got published," he quipped. "It made 'Twilight' look like 'War and Peace.'"