The Washington Post reports that author and reporter Elizabeth Wurtzel—whose 1994 book Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America became a kind of bible for Gen-Xers and was a prototype for the deeply personal writing that has thrived over the last two decades—has died.
Wurtzel’s husband, Jim Freed, told the Post that Wurtzel had undergone a double mastectomy but that the cancer had metastasized to her brain, and that the cause of death was “complications from leptomeningeal disease, which occurs when cancer spreads to the cerebrospinal fluid.”
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.
Though Prozac Nation was Wurtzel’s first and longest-lasting claim to fame, even being translated to a 2001 film starring Christina Ricci, the writer was prolific and ambitious well beyond her ‘90s star turn. She followed her debut with four more books, including 2001's More, Now Again: A Memoir of Addiction, and in 2004, entered Yale Law School, before passing the New York bar in 2010 and practicing law through 2012. Throughout, she continued publishing essays that were often controversial and stream of consciousness, but always compelled a large amount of public interest and commentary. In a 2015 Jezebel interview with Jia Tolentino about her last book, Creatocracy, Wurtzel attempted to get to the bottom of her relative fame:
People are fascinated by you; why do you think that is?
I think I remind people of themselves.
I think I have the same problems everyone else has. Not exactly, but kind of. It turns out that cancer is very common—maybe the most normal thing that’s happened to me. It’s unbelievably common.
And really, most of the things that have happened to me, they happen to everybody. The one thing I shouldn’t feel about anything that happens to me is ashamed. Who doesn’t get all messed up with this or that thing?
Wurtzel was 52.