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Prozac Nation Author Elizabeth Wurtzel Dead at 52

She had breast cancer
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 7, 2020 11:05 AM CST
Updated Jan 7, 2020 12:16 PM CST
Prozac Nation Author Elizabeth Wurtzel Is Dead
A screen grab of Elizabeth Wurtzel from a 2015 video.   (YouTube)

(Newser) – The author of Prozac Nation, a groundbreaking 1994 memoir about drug use and depression, has died at age 52. Elizabeth Wurtzel had breast cancer, and she died from related complications, reports the Washington Post. Coverage:

  • The full title of Wurtzel's book was Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America, and it turned Wurtzel into a literary sensation in her 20s. The book was "startling," per the New York Times, as Wurtzel detailed her sex life along with her drug addiction and depression. Lit Hub notes that Wurtzel is credited with helping launch a boom in memoir writing.
  • Wurtzel was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, and she wrote an essay in Vice at the time saying that "compared with what I have been through, it is nothing." She also wrote about her cancer and double mastectomy in the New York Times that same year, advocating for BRCA testing.

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  • Not everybody liked the book, or Wurtzel, with some critics calling her narcissistic and self-involved. One negative review at the time, at the Harvard Crimson (Wurtzel is an alum) complained that "although the title suggests that the book is a sociological study of a culture of depression among America's non-slacker youth, it is simply the tedious and poorly written story of Wurtzel's melodramatic life, warts and all."
  • A much better review came from Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times. "By turns wrenching and comical, self-indulgent and self-aware, Prozac Nation possesses the raw candor of Joan Didion’s essays, the irritating emotional exhibitionism of Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar and the wry, dark humor of a Bob Dylan song."
  • She also wrote the essay collection Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women (1998) and the memoir More, Now, Again: A Memoir of Addiction (2002), per NBC News. The cover of the first edition of Bitch featured a naked Wurtzel raising a middle finger, an image the Post says helped turn her into a "generational touchstone."
  • In a 2013 article in the New Yorker, Meghan Daum (around the same age as Wurtzel) recalls that aspiring writers like herself in the 1990s had mixed feelings about the author: "We resented her for being such a famous and hot little mess, yet we couldn’t help but begrudgingly admire her ability to parlay her neuroses into financial rewards and a place in the literary scene."
(Read more Elizabeth Wurtzel stories.)

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