Lena Dunham, Salman Rushdie among big names at New Yorker fest

Salman Rushdie

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.

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.'''

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.

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