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The Recommender

Is Lena Dunham's New Newsletter Lenny What Feminism Needs Now?

It was born from a book tour and launches later this month. Here, editor Jessica Grose tells us what to expect—and why.

  • <p>"In the Museum of Modern Art, they walked inside a Richard Serra and she demonstrated her entitlement by running her hand along it and he demonstrated his lack thereof by tearing up at the sheer mass of it. Some tourists disappeared around the bend of the sculpture and he fingered her for a moment and she thought this is what it is to be young. But she could tell his heart wasn’t in it and that he was hungry again, so she found him a Fortifix Fit Crunch Bar in a roach-filled deli and he ate it in three bites, standing by their locked bikes. She held her helmet against her stomach like a pregnant belly. She was slightly worried she was running out of things to say. But what had she even said?" Read the full story <a href="http://lennyletter.com/lena-dunham-first-short-story/" target="_blank">here</a>.</p>
  • <p>"Nighttime, though it was completely indistinguishable from the day, was a relative of other darknesses in other parts of the world, I remembered, where men lost their minds. It may have been merely the hallway I feared. I had nothing to fear from Nils. Had he wanted anything from me, he could have taken it easily in the kitchen, or the car, or the empty places along the northern shore where we’d pulled over. He hadn’t made any such move. The parking lot lay illuminated in the perpetual morning out my window. I drew the curtains and locked my door, foolishly, against the empty asylum, or against my only companion, or against anything that woke in the weird bright night." Read the full story <a href="http://lennyletter.com/lena-dunham-first-short-story/" target="_blank">here</a>.</p>
  • <p>"Lillian felt she had been waiting her whole life to meet this ruined woman. It excited her to think that somewhere in her lineage was not just a great beauty, but a great, destroyed beauty! Her relatives had booked a private dining room and there, sitting in a corner, was a small woman sipping Fanta through a straw. Her legs were crossed and one of her little embroidered slippers was dangling off her foot. Auntie Wei was the only one who didn’t stand up to greet Lillian and her mother. She was preoccupied with a knot on the underside of her hair." Read the full story <a href="http://lennyletter.com/lena-dunham-first-short-story/" target="_blank">here</a>.</p>
  • 01 /03 | Lenny Fiction Issue No. 1: “Six Sausages” by Lena Dunham

    "In the Museum of Modern Art, they walked inside a Richard Serra and she demonstrated her entitlement by running her hand along it and he demonstrated his lack thereof by tearing up at the sheer mass of it. Some tourists disappeared around the bend of the sculpture and he fingered her for a moment and she thought this is what it is to be young. But she could tell his heart wasn’t in it and that he was hungry again, so she found him a Fortifix Fit Crunch Bar in a roach-filled deli and he ate it in three bites, standing by their locked bikes. She held her helmet against her stomach like a pregnant belly. She was slightly worried she was running out of things to say. But what had she even said?" Read the full story here.

  • 02 /03 | Lenny Fiction Issue No. 1: “Rambo, Kitten, Rescues Other Kitten” by Rebecca Dinerstein

    "Nighttime, though it was completely indistinguishable from the day, was a relative of other darknesses in other parts of the world, I remembered, where men lost their minds. It may have been merely the hallway I feared. I had nothing to fear from Nils. Had he wanted anything from me, he could have taken it easily in the kitchen, or the car, or the empty places along the northern shore where we’d pulled over. He hadn’t made any such move. The parking lot lay illuminated in the perpetual morning out my window. I drew the curtains and locked my door, foolishly, against the empty asylum, or against my only companion, or against anything that woke in the weird bright night." Read the full story here.

  • 03 /03 | Lenny Fiction Issue No. 1: “Settling” by Jenny Zhang

    "Lillian felt she had been waiting her whole life to meet this ruined woman. It excited her to think that somewhere in her lineage was not just a great beauty, but a great, destroyed beauty! Her relatives had booked a private dining room and there, sitting in a corner, was a small woman sipping Fanta through a straw. Her legs were crossed and one of her little embroidered slippers was dangling off her foot. Auntie Wei was the only one who didn’t stand up to greet Lillian and her mother. She was preoccupied with a knot on the underside of her hair." Read the full story here.

Jessica Grose’s life as a freelance journalist was pretty sweet: steady work from Slate, Elle, and New York magazine was rolling in; her second book The Closest Marriage was done. Nothing, it seemed, could pull her back into the daily hustle of a staff job.

Jessica Grose

Except maybe the opportunity to work as editor-in-chief for Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s forthcoming weekly newsletter Lenny.

"I really thought I would never go back to a full-time staff job," Grose says. "This project came along, and it was just so exciting and inspiring for me—it was starting something from the ground up, which I had never done before."

Dunham, one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People and creator and star of Girls, and Konner, producer and showrunner for Girls, announced in July their plan to start "an email newsletter where there’s no such thing as too much information," covering topics of "feminism, style, health, politics, friendship," and everything in between. Lenny will also feature original fiction, and recently previewed what's to come with its first issue of short stories (see the above slideshow for more on that). As it stands, Lenny's format will be five stories: one long read in the ballpark of 1,000 to 2,000 words, and four shorter pieces. Lenny has a tentative launch date of September 29. Here, Grose (who has written for Fast Company) explains why she’s basking in the slower side of the news cycle—and Lenny’s place in the women-centric media galaxy.

The Slow News Movement

"I love the daily news cycle, but as a writer and an editor I had gotten burnt out," Grose says. "I was just exhausted by always having to come up with a fresh angle on the news and everyone talking about the same thing."

Part of Lenny’s appeal for Grose was its second-day, magazine-style approach to topical events, which, in turn, Grose hopes will give readers less static and more substance. Take, for example, Dunham’s Q&A with Chenai Okammor, a colleague and friend to Sandra Bland, the black woman whose death in a holding cell following her arrest in July stoked yet more claims of recent injustices against the black community at the hands of police officers. In the conversation, Dunham focuses on Bland’s mentor and the website Woman4Woman they were going to launch together.

Given Lenny’s format as a weekly newsletter, where space for content and timelines are to be considered, national stories like Bland’s will indeed be discussed, "but it’s going to be in a thoughtful way," Grose says.

Defining Feminism—And Why It Matters

Lenny will join an already loaded club of feminist-leaning blogs and sites—Jezebel, The Hairpin, and the newly launched Broadly, to name a few—each with a specific tone on the topic. Grose is perfectly fine with this.

"We’re not reinventing the wheel, but, hopefully, making the wheel a little more spiffy," Grose says. "We’re not trying to be a monolith in any way. Our feminism is pro-choice feminism, and beyond that, it’s totally open and fluid and as different as the many contributors we’re going to have. It’s also intersectional, having a diverse number of voices that aren’t just racially diverse but also in terms of gender expression. That’s super important to us."

Whether or not Lenny competes with similar websites isn’t important to Grose. What matters is that there is an audience hungry for information about both women’s rights and fashion tips.

"The inspiration [for the newsletter came] when Lena was on her book tour. She didn’t just do the regular book tour where she was at bookstores and read part of her book, she made it this event," Grose says. "Every place she went, she had poets and singers, and she was meeting all these amazing young women in the audience. So Lena wanted a way to keep that conversation going."

That idea of extending conversations of both broader and narrower women's issues comes at the perfect time in culture right now. Feminism has re-entered the zeitgeist in a way that can’t be ignored, and which makes Lenny’s presence feel that much more urgent.

"I think we’re in a moment where women’s rights do feel somewhat in peril," Grose says. "Women’s rights are being beaten back at the state level, and that is really upsetting and troubling."

Slideshow Credits: 01 / Illustration: Valerie Suter; 02 / Illustration: Valerie Suter; 03 / Illustration: Valerie Suter;

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