Dunham has exclusively revealed her bold, frothy new Lenny Letter fiction project to EW

By David Canfield
March 20, 2018 at 08:00 AM EDT
Mike Marsland/WireImage

Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s Lenny imprint has made a name for itself in the publishing world with successes such as Jenny Zhang’s short-story collection Sour Heart. Now Dunham is taking the brand in a bold new direction: interactive fiction.

EW can exclusively announce that Lenny Letter has partnered with Glamour to produce Daughter, First, a seven-part political fiction series written by a group of of-the-moment female writers. The evolving story centers on Katie Mahoney Brown, the charismatic daughter of “Big” Jim Brown — the blowhard independent governor of Massachusetts, a wealthy son of Boston whose Irish father bootstrapped his way to millions. When a financial scandal involving Katie’s husband, Tom, an aide to her father, threatens to tear the family apart, Katie must choose between the men in her life.

Starting March 20, each novelist’s chapter will run in the Lenny newsletter, on Glamour.com, and on LennyLetter.com. And then there’s the interactive element: Readers will have the opportunity to influence parts of each chapter by responding to prompts via social media and sharing a specific vignette from their own lives (say, a bad date or a first job experience). That week’s writer will then choose the best one and incorporate it into her chapter, with a shout-out to the person who submitted the story incorporated at the bottom. (The first chapter is now on Lenny, and here’s the prompt for the second chapter.)

Participating writers include J. Courtney Sullivan, Jessica Knoll, Kaitlyn Greenidge, Camille Perri, Nafkote Tamirat, and Lenny editor-in-chief Jessica Grose, as well as Caroline Kepnes, who has a book set to publish with Lenny. Illustrator Najeebah Al-Ghadban will create the artwork for the series, and Dunham will write the project’s introduction.

Dunham explained to EW that the individual chapters aren’t intended to have the same style. “The voice changes every week, and that’s really exciting to us because it’s also an experiment in … how your readers will follow you and how they’ll engage with you,” she said. “The goal isn’t to make it seem like it was all written by one person; the goal is that each person is going to put their unique stamp on the Katie Mahoney Brown story and give it a different energy and a different flair. That’s why we’re so excited to come up with a list of women who are all amazing writers, but who write really differently.”

“We have long wanted to use the newsletter to do serial storytelling,” Grose told EW of the project’s genesis. “We have seen the popularity of podcasts using serial storytelling, and so we just thought that newsletters — which have the same weekly cadence — could be used in the same way, to draw readers in and create suspense and just tell a really good story. … And I’d been noticing that the national conversation is very highly dominated by politics. I thought, ‘What a better time to do a novel —a totally fictional portrayal — about a political family?’”

For Dunham, the project represents the natural next step for Lenny, in what she calls the creation of “a literary community for women,” in which writers “interact with each other and care about each other’s work,” specifically referencing the work Kepnes is doing for Lenny. “We are so excited at Lenny about bringing the kind of fiction that we think our readers really care about to them: smart, at times escapist, but with a core intelligence,” she added. “That is the mission of the imprint. … Doing something like this, it’s in keeping with our general attitude about what we do, which is that we’re a brand that wants to give women a place to escape to, while also keeping up with their intellectual appetite.”

Najeebah Al-Ghadban

You can check out more about Daughter, First on Glamour, and see a sample of Al-Ghadban’s art above.