The author popularized confessional-style memoirs and was a face of Gen X

By Sam Gillette
January 07, 2020 12:52 PM
The author
Neville Elder/Corbis via Getty

Elizabeth Wurtzel — the author of Prozac Nation who popularized confessional-style memoirs and was a face of Gen X — has died at the age of 52, according to multiple reports. 

Her husband, Jim Freed, confirmed to The Washington Post on Tuesday that she’d been battling metastatic breast cancer, which then spread to her brain. She died due to complications from leptomeningeal disease in Manhattan on Tuesday, according to the newspaper.

“Lizzie’s literary genius rests not just in her acres of quotable one-liners,” Wurtzel’s longtime friend and fellow writer David Samuels told The New York Times via email, “but in her invention of what was really a new form, which has more or less replaced literary fiction — the memoir by a young person no one has ever heard of before. It was a form that Lizzie fashioned in her own image, because she always needed to be both the character and the author.”

Wurtzel was just 26 when Prozac Nation — a hyper-personal account of her struggles with depression, her dependency on drugs, and her sex life — was published.

“That is all I want in life: for this pain to seem purposeful,” she wrote in her memoir, which was received both with acclaim and criticism. But despite some naysayers, Wurtzel helped define a generation, began a national discourse about depression, and inspired numerous other unknown authors to write memoirs — a trend that’s still seen today.

The young author would go on to write other books that challenged the status quo, including Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women (1998) and More, Now, Again: A Memoir of Addiction (2001). She was admired for her lyrical prose and candor that, in Prozac Nation, bordered on narcissism, the Times noted.

She announced she had breast cancer in 2015, and had a double mastectomy, according to the Washington Post. As she did with depression and addiction, Wurtzel wrote about her cancer in an unapologetic manner. In a 2018 op-ed for The Guardian, Wurtzel wrote that she doesn’t need to hear “I’m sorry,” even as she advocated for a screening to detect the BRCA gene — a test that could have saved her life.

“I hate it when people say that they are sorry about my cancer. Really? Have they met me? I am not someone that you feel sorry for. I am the original mean girl,” she wrote in the op-ed. “I now have stage-four upgrade privileges. I can go right to the front. But it’s always been like this. I am a line-cutter. Which is to say, I was precocious. I was early for history.”

“I was on Prozac when it was still called fluoxetine. I wrote a twentynothing memoir when there was no such thing,” she continued. “I got addicted to snorting Ritalin before there was Adderall. I was a riot girl, I was a do-me feminist, and I posed topless giving the world the finger on the cover of my second book. I have always been the most impossible person ever.”

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