Hannah Horvath, the character portrayed by Lena Dunham on her series Girls, famously told her parents in the pilot episode, “I think that I may be the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice, of a generation.”
Since the 2012 premiere, numerous commentators have called Dunham the “voice of her generation.” Though many critics disagree, the fact that Dunham has achieved what Hannah clearly never will should prove the error of conflating the writer-director-actress with the self-absorbed essayist she plays on TV. In addition to Girls, she’s written a bestseller, made a Spirit Award-winning feature, and become a highly visible feminist and political advocate — all while in her 20s.
On Friday, Lena Dunham reaches yet another milestone in her life: turning 30. In honor of all she’s achieved in the decade that has defined her work thus far, here are some of the greatest moments and successes of Dunham’s 20s.
Dunham’s debut feature, Creative Nonfiction, screened at South by Southwest in 2009, when Dunham was 22 (she had unsuccessfully submitted the film the year before, but made it into the lineup after re-editing it). Its follow-up, Tiny Furniture, premiered at the same festival in 2010; Tiny Furniture won Best Narrative Feature at SXSW, eventually got a Criterion release, and officially put its writer-director-star on the radar of the industry — and Judd Apatow. Two years later, Dunham went back to the Austin fest to screen the first three episodes of an Apatow-produced HBO series she had created, Girls.
The envelope-pushing, zeitgeist-capturing, think piece–inspiring series premiered on HBO on April 15, 2012 — a month before Dunham turned 26. “This is a series with the ambition and talent to grow ever more potent and varied,” EW critic Ken Tucker wrote of the pilot episode. The season 5 finale aired in April, and the groundbreaking show will be back for its sixth and final season in 2017.
Not That Kind of Girl
After having written multiple pieces for The New Yorker, Dunham published her first book in 2014, when she was 28. She landed a $3.5 million deal with Random House for the essay collection, entitled Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Women Tells You What She’s “Learned.” The book was critically appreciated (EW gave it a B+) and shot up the New York Times bestseller list upon its publication.
Dunham has spent her 20s lending her voice to political issues that are important to her, particularly in regards to women’s health and gender inequality. She has also gotten a lot of attention in particular for her election year endorsements: In 2012, she made a memorable video for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, aimed at college-age first-time voters. “Your first time shouldn’t be with just anybody,” she says. “You want to do it with a great guy — a guy who cares whether you get health insurance, and specifically whether you get birth control.” Dunham turns 30 in the midst of an even more fraught political year, and she has been vocal in her support of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic presidential nominee.
Along with her Girls co-showrunner Jenni Konner, Dunham launched a newsletter, Lenny, in September of 2015. The feminist e-publication has published an interview with Hillary Clinton; a letter by First Lady Michelle Obama about girls’ education; a defense of Kesha, by Dunham; and Jennifer Lawrence’s now-famous essay about the Hollywood wage gap, among various other personal history, short fiction, and researched pieces by noteworthy contributors. Last month, Lenny announced its launch of a book-publishing imprint at Random House.
A profile of Dunham was our EW cover story in 2013, soon after she won a Golden Globe for playing Hannah on the first season of Girls. She took our reporter Melissa Maerz to an animal shelter to help pick out a dog to adopt (she chose the now-famous Lamby, who is frequently featured on her social media and in her writing), and spoke candidly about her experience as a creative, hardworking 20-something famous for being a clueless, directionless 20-something.
“Just because you have a TV show and a book deal doesn’t mean the Red Sea parts and your path becomes clear,” she said at the time. Maybe the same goes now: Lena Dunham may be 30, but here’s hoping she hasn’t yet outgrown being a true master of the fine art of not having it all figured out.