NEW YORK (AP) — "Girls" creator Lena Dunham and author-essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates, strangers until Monday night, found they had a lot in common.
Especially when the subject was the upcoming presidency of Donald Trump.
"If what has to happen is that I get metaphorically strung up by my toes because I think we were all born equal and beautiful, then that's just what's going to happen," Dunham said.
"As terrified and as horrible as I think the events of the election were, I live for this moment. I think this is a great time," said Coates, adding that Trump's victory had filled him with determination and a sense of purpose. "I make books and I make articles, and now I have a formidable opponent."
The event was organized by the Peterborough, New Hampshire-based MacDowell artist colony and was held before more than 150 MacDowell supporters at the New Museum in downtown Manhattan. Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and MacDowell board chairman Michael Chabon, who moderated the discussion, says the idea was to have a "sparky" conversation between artists of different fields and backgrounds, an approach similar to last year's MacDowell gathering that featured Martin Scorsese and Lin-Manuel Miranda of "Hamilton" fame.
Dunham, author of the best-selling essay collection "Not That Kind of Girl" and at work on a novel, is a self-described "rich white girl" from New York City. Coates grew up in a rough neighborhood in Baltimore and went on to become one of the country's leading voices on race through his commentary for The Atlantic Magazine and his best-selling "Between the World and Me."
But Dunham says that she has long admired Coates' work, and Coates has written warmly about "Girls," which has been criticized for its scarcity of black actors. In 2013, he reviewed the show in The Atlantic, calling it "really, really funny" and praising it for its candid and liberating depictions of sex.
"The show ain't perfect," he concluded. "I found the occasional elements of black culture more jarring and unfortunate ('Hey, we're white. Look how lame we are. And look how lame we are when we act black.') than any lack thereof. But in general I came away genuinely impressed with the artistry."
On Monday, the two shared thoughts about the writing process (she called her work habits "deplorable," a word made famous by her friend Hillary Clinton, and joked that she writes in bed amidst spilled food and a heating pad) and their mutual gratitude to the late author and New York Times journalist David Carr.
Both remembered him as a mentor who was volatile and demanding, but profoundly honest and supportive. Coates recalled applying years ago for an internship at an alternative newspaper in Washington, D.C. and his shock at being accepted by Carr, the then-editor, despite submitting a chapbook of "Hate Whitey" poetry. Dunham credited Carr with launching her career when in the Times he praised her short film "Tiny Furniture" at the 2010 South by Southwest festival.
Carr, who died in 2015 at age 58, was "brash and vaguely inappropriate," Dunham said of him. But he was also "pure love."
Discussing how they saw their roles during a Trump presidency, Coates and Dunham agreed that they had no way of knowing if they could make a difference, but saw no alternative to trying. Coates noted that blacks have spent more time enslaved in North American than emancipated and vowed to continue the struggle his ancestors had waged for centuries.
Dunham added that she would fight even though "Most people go into conversations having already decided what they're going to say and what they're going to hear.
"Which is why it's so fun to talk to people," she added.