Author Jessica Knoll made a splash last May when she released Luckiest Girl Alive, a dark, twisted book about successful, 28-year-old TifAni Fanelli who has a secret boiling under the surface. Lionsgate bought the rights to the novel before it had even debuted and Reese Witherspoon is set to produce the film version. Now, in a new essay for Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter, Knoll has come out to say that one of the harrowing events depicted in the book, a gang rape, actually happened to her.
“You probably didn’t realize you had acknowledged what happened to me when you acknowledged what happened to Ani, partially because I’ve never publicly discussed that flashpoint in my life and partially because Luckiest Girl Alive is not a memoir or even a roman à clef,” Knoll wrote.
The author says she chose to speak out about her experience now, as she’s about to embark on the paperback book tour to support the book. “I’ve come to a simple, powerful revelation: everyone is calling it rape now,” she wrote. There’s no reason to cover my head. There’s no reason I shouldn’t say what I know.”
Knoll goes on to describe the events that took place when she was 15, and the after-effects of one night at a party. “From then on, I submitted to my assigned narrative,” she wrote. “What was the point in raising my voice when all it got me was my own lonely echo? Like Ani, the only way I knew to survive was to laugh loudly at my rapists’ jokes, speak softly to the mean girls, and focus on chiseling my tunnel out of there.”
In the essay, Knoll reveals the first time she acknowledged that Ani’s story came from a deep place within was when a reader asked her if she had interviewed a rape victim. “‘Something similar to what happened to Ani happened to me,’ I responded for the first time ever, and she grabbed my wrist and held it tight, blinking tears, while I smiled brightly, insisting in a foreign falsetto, ‘I’m fine! It’s fine!'”
In introducing Knoll’s piece, Dunham wrote that her first reaction to reading the essay was “gratitude.”
“The experience of reading this piece was a bittersweet one for me. Bitter because of the pain of recognizing, in Jessica, a woman who has been forced for too long to bury the truth of her own experience, hiding it under a façade of apologies and feigned chill,” Dunham wrote. “But also sweet — powerfully, thrillingly sweet — in that she has expressed it now, with such generous and poetic honesty. In telling her own story, Jessica makes way for so many still untold. In turning her writerly gifts to this topic, she emancipates an army of experiences and gives survivors back their voices. I know, deep in my bones, that this piece has the power to change lives and I am honored that Lenny gets to share it.”
See the whole essay by subscribing to Lenny Letter.