Here is the way Lena and I like to staff: We hire people who know more than we do and then let them do their jobs. We have been lucky enough to find truly talented people who are genuinely better than us at what they do. Ericka Naegle started as my assistant on Girls and made it clear she had what it takes to run our film and television company, which she now does with skill and style. We met Lenny's editor, Jess Grose, who is the fierce protector and cocreator of the voice of Lenny. And we found Lenny's deputy editor, Laia Garcia, who created the visual style that is Lenny and so much more. (Also, she's cooler than all of us put together.) This is all to say that I think we are pretty fucking great at finding talent and letting them do their thing.
Jenny Zhang is no exception.
When we were first offered the opportunity by Random House (shout-out to Andy Ward!) to start a Lenny imprint, our minds cracked open. Here was yet another chance to get the voices of talented people into the universe — sometimes even in hardcover.
We feel so lucky to be a part of bringing her beautiful book Sour Heart to you. It's crushing and moving and gorgeous in all the right places. It's full of stories I promise you have never heard. Jenny's voice is exceptional, and we are honored to have her as the author of our Lenny imprint's debut.
Lena was lucky enough to sit down with her and ask Jenny questions about telling immigrant stories, about finding mentors, and about her poetry. I'm jealous because I have so many more questions. And so will you.
— Jenni Konner
Lena Dunham: I wonder if you could talk about the role that your parents played in the book. So many of the stories are about parent-child relations, and at times you even use your real last name. Even though it's fiction, what instincts did you have to protect them? What instincts did you have to expose them for everything that they did wrong? How did all that intersect for you?
Jenny Zhang: No matter what identities I take on, my first identity is always my parents' kid. Whatever stability I have in my life is because I always knew that even if every single person in my life turned against me and said that I was trash, I would have a home to go to where I would be loved.
I feel like there's often an interest in exploring the ways in which young people hate their families, and rebel against their families, and are done wrong by their parents. That's definitely a facet of the teens and the kids in these stories. But a lot of these characters, they're more haunted by loving their families too much than not loving them enough.
I think there's this hunger for stories about immigrants who reject their families, or feel like their families don't understand them. I wanted to explore that and also explore another reality, that a lot of second-generation kids love their families and feel indebted to them.
LD: You started writing the book and we started talking about the book way before Donald Trump was elected. Now you're in this position to start this conversation about immigrants and about what the reality is for families who are coming here. How do you feel about taking that on? Do you feel like these stories are political?