In the pilot episode of Girls, Lena Dunham’s character, Hannah, tells her parents that she believes she’s meant to share her writing talent with others.
“I think I may be the voice of my generation,” her character said with a pause, “or at least the voice of a generation.”
Dunham is now providing a voice for other millennials on the HBO comedy series that follows a group of girls in their mid-20s, on her Twitter account and in her new book, Not That Kind of Girl (Random, $28).
She’s embarking on an 11-city book tour, with warm-up acts that were selected from video auditions. They were tapped to perform without pay, but then the Gawker website calculated how much Dunham would make on her advance and from ticket sales to those appearances. Dunham responded on Twitter, saying she would “compensate” the performers for “their time, their labor and their talents.”
Dunham, 28, talked about her book in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
Why did you write mostly essays?
It feels great. I mean, I would be lying to say that releasing anything that you are close to isn’t accompanied by anxiety, but it’s far outweighed by how cool it is to have conversations with people about it and that I finally get to share it with the people that I love.
The book’s subtitle is “A Young Woman Tells You What She’s ‘Learned.’” Is it important for you to share life lessons with your generation?
It is important to me to provide life lessons to others. … I don’t think there is one person who is qualified to share their eternal wisdom and fix everybody up, and I’m sure there are a lot of people who would disagree with all the choices I have made, but for me, it just makes me feel like all my mistakes might have some kind of use when I feel that I might be imparting some comfort or knowledge onto other young people. Or giving some other people insight into their lives or their children’s lives or their friends’ lives or their own past life.
There are some serious parts. Do you think that was expected?
I definitely think some people were like, ‘We were expecting a funny book.’ Everything is not always funny all of the time.
You write about a sexually aggressive experience in college, but you don’t call it rape. Why?
I think I wanted to mimic, in the form of an essay, everything that a woman goes through, a person goes through when they’re trying to reconcile an experience like that. The challenge of naming it, the fear of naming it yourself, the fear that in saying — calling something rape — you then become the eternal rape victim. Those anxieties that come with being sexually assaulted. … This essay is superpersonal. There are plenty of people having really, really good political discourses on the topic of rape. What I wanted to do was sort of mimic the experience of coming to grips with that encounter. I think that for me I had a lot of fear of talking about it in the first place, and I tried to reflect that and all of the guilt, pain, anxiety, fear that I know so many women I know have experienced after being sexually assaulted.
Were you worried about including that in the book?
I was worried it would sort of become a headline that got away from me and that the serious and personal nature of that story would sort of be abused because that’s sort of the nature of putting things out into the world, and also because I happen to be putting out a book as someone who is on a TV show. There’s another level of scrutiny that comes with releasing something like that, but intimately I felt like campus assault is so much in the current cultural dialogue, and I know so many young women who are dealing with and thinking about these things and with their bravery they made me feel ready to talk about it.
What are the challenges of writing a book compared with writing a TV show?
You’re just alone with your thoughts. There’s so much collaboration that happens on a television set. There’s a prop meeting every day and a costume meeting and a conversation with your writers and a conversation with your actors, and I love and cherish that, but there was also something really nice about rediscovering my solitary writer’s voice. … But also moments where I was like, [laughing,] ‘I have been alone for hours with my stupid thoughts!’