Seminal Gen X author Elizabeth Wurtzel, whose 1994 memoir Prozac Nation opened a window onto clinical depression, died today in New York City following a battle with metastatic breast cancer that had spread to her brain. She was 52.
Before memoirs became a literary genre du jour, and before the now-popular confessional style of writing became mainstream, Wurtzel’s “Prozac Nation,” published when she was just 27, created a sensation.
Although the book – and later the movie starring Christina Ricci – had its many, many fans, it also (as CNN points out) “invited widespread criticism and debate for its unapologetic, self-reflective nature.”
She also created a firestorm of controversy after 9/11 when she wrote:
“I had not the slightest emotional reaction. I thought, ‘This is a really strange art project.’ It was the most amazing sight in terms of sheer elegance.” She then said “‘I just felt like everyone was overreacting. People were going on about it. That part really annoyed me.’
In addition to Prozac Nation, she also found success with other books including 1998’s Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women, 2001’s More, Now Again: A Memoir of Addiction, and 2015’s Creatocracy. In 2004, she entered Yale Law School, before passing the New York bar in 2010 and practicing law through 2012
Of her cancer diagnosis, Wurtzel was incredibly Wurtzelesque.
In 2018, Wurtzel published a Guardian essay entitled “I have cancer. Don’t tell me you’re sorry,” in which she detailed her diagnosis of late-stage breast cancer. Typical of her self-deprecating confessional style, she wrote:
I love being controversial, because that’s the closest you get to everyone agreeing with you – the other choice is no one is paying attention.
I hate anodyne. I hate that word.
I am worse than cancer. And now I have cancer. All anyone can do is forgive me. Which is exactly what they have been doing all along.
None of the stories I wrote down were nearly so fantabulous as the excuses I made for myself for being myself.
I am baroque. I am rococo. I am an onomatopoeia of explaining away.
We are human. Unlike other creatures, we live in narrative. We are conscious. If you make up the right story, it will be so.
I feel that if something is happening to me, it must be a good thing, so cancer must be a blessing.
I am like that. I am excited to be alive.
Her friend Ronan Farrow had this to say of her today:
I met Lizzie in law school. She started mid-career as I was starting young. We were both misfits and she was kind and generous and filled spaces that might have otherwise been lonely with her warmth and humor and idiosyncratic voice. She gave a lot to a lot of us. I miss her. https://t.co/nn4uY77rJO— Ronan Farrow (@RonanFarrow) January 7, 2020
After being diagnosed with breast cancer, Lizzie became an advocate for BRCA testing. Please consider getting tested and encourage your loved ones to do the same.— Ronan Farrow (@RonanFarrow) January 7, 2020
Rest in Power.