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Jenni Konner, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Lena Dunham in the debut issue of Lenny, out today. Photo: Stacey Reiss for Lenny
Girls co-showrunners and work soulmates Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner are undeniably busy people. And yet, this summer, they hired a staff of writers and editors to launch yet another project. It’s called Lenny, a twice-weekly newsletter aimed at the young women who log into their parents’ HBO Go accounts each week in hopes of seeing a little bit of themselves in Hannah Horvath’s heightened reality. If Gwyneth Paltrow’s newsletter GOOP is a cross between Lucky and Martha Stewart Living, Lenny might be compared to Jane or Sassy, those oft-missed feminist magazines that managed to cover a breadth of topics in funny and smart, but never pretentious, fashion. “We’ve funneled so many of our passionate beliefs and fears into Girls. But they’re hidden in the characters,” Dunham says, calling with Konner from their shared desk in Los Angeles. “There’s a lot that we felt that we had to say about the current landscape for women that you can’t necessarily say in a show, through the voices of characters, without being didactic and meta.”
Given that Dunham in particular has been a near-constant topic of lady-blog conversation since the premiere of Girls in 2012, it’s not too surprising that she and Konner have strong opinions about what makes good — and bad — content. “We’ve really found ourselves in the eyes of the Internet women’s media storm, and I feel like that gave us a really good sense of what we, as feminists, and as creators, felt was missing in that space,” Dunham continues. “We’re by no means saying that we’re curing the Internet. But we do think there’s [room] for an un-snarky, supportive and funny place for diverse female voices.”
Lenny, which will be published every Tuesday and Friday, is an ambitious attempt to fill that empty niche. The newsletter format lends itself to Lenny’s intent. “We knew that we wanted to keep it small and intimate,” Dunham says. “Curated, specific content brought to you every week, that we have a really personal relationship to. It’s not sending you on a crazy clicks journey across the Internet.” The every-Tuesday issue will include several articles, while Friday’s will be dedicated to one interview. (Upcoming contributors include Amy Poehler, stylist Shirley Kurata, and writer Durga Chew-Bose.)
The lineup for the first issue of Lenny, out today.
The debut letter features what could be the duo’s biggest “get” of the year: a Q&A with Hillary Rodham Clinton that covers everything from the presidential hopeful’s first job (packing salmon) to her actual opinions on clothes. (Spoiler alert: She seems to like and enjoy wearing them.) Clinton also revealed that she turned down Bill’s proposal of marriage twice before saying yes. “We were interested in taking a person who you’d think there may be nothing left to learn [about] and coming at it through the eyes of a 20-year-old,” says Konner of the piece’s angle. “What would I want to know about this person? What was her world like when she was that age? She really made herself vulnerable to us. I just found it very relatable.”
Issue No. 1 also includes a profile of writer and architect June Jordan by editor at large Doreen St. Félix, a personal essay by writer Kira Garcia about why she decided to embrace marriage as a queer-identifying woman, and the first installment of “Rumors I Heard About My Body,” a recurring feature presented in partnership with Planned Parenthood. (This week, Lenny editor in chief Jessica Grose taps a PP doc to answer the age-old question “Is My Period Weird?” The answer: probably not.)
Also in the mix is an explainer by associate editor Laia Garcia that traces the trajectory of our current obsession with designer denim. (She reasons it all goes back to Central Saint Martins graduate Marques Almeida.) “It was important for us to cover fashion from an anthropological angle,” Dunham says. “It’s not about ‘Here are 10 great silhouettes for the fall.’ It’s about understanding fashion in the larger cultural context.”
Lenny’s first effort offers enough good stuff to hook any fan of Dunham and Konner’s, and plenty more to draw in new admirers. But while the content captivates, I couldn’t help but want more of Dunham and Konner themselves: What are their rules, or coping methods, for getting by? “You don’t have to do everything. There are different ways to approach things like cooking or exercise or nutrition or spirituality that aren’t going to make you feel overwhelmed or aren’t going to make you feel like there’s lack in your life. I know that’s been a huge anxiety of mine,” Dunham says. “That ‘women having it all’ question is so overplayed, but it’s also a real concern. What’s fun about our partnership is that Jenni does have two kids and a different set of things to manage. I have a job and my neurotic dog. [Yet] we’re both constantly struggling and evolving in different ways,” she continues. “I do think that it’ll be reflected in the newsletter. Not just the kind of advice that we would have wanted when we were younger, but that we still want.”
While Lenny is clearly a labor of love, it does require real labor, and a paid staff. That means, in order for Dunham and Konner to keep this newsletter afloat, it must begin generating revenue. “We want to pay our writers, and we want this to be sustainable,” Dunham explains. The revolution will be monetized through the traditional channels of advertising and e-commerce. Although don’t expect any compromises in the name of capitalism. “Obviously we have a super-discerning audience that is not going to stand for us advertising products that don’t have a strong ethical foundation,” Dunham says. “They’re not going to stand for bulls—, basically.”