The Glorious, Messy Life of Liz Wurtzel

Deborah Copaken in The Atlantic:

By the time of her arrival at Harvard the following fall––now Liz instead of Lizzie––she was instantly college famous. Within weeks on campus, everyone knew who Liz Wurtzel was. How could you not? Particularly after the popped-cherry party she threw midyear. Or rather, our mutual friend Donal Logue threw the party, and Liz commandeered it. “So the story is we threw a huge party sophomore year in Adams House,” said Donal earlier today, when we spoke to commiserate over her death. “Liz, a freshman at the time, showed up and announced she had just lost her virginity and it was now officially the ‘Elizabeth Wurtzel lost her virginity party.’ At first, I was surprised. She seemed so wild. When I got to know her and understood her Ramaz background, her high-school life, it made sense.”

Now Donal and everyone else who knew Liz, or has encountered her work since, are trying to make sense of the idea that she’s gone. Elizabeth Wurtzel died on January 7, 2020, at the age of 52, of complications from breast cancer. When I spoke with Roberta Feldman Brzezinski, her college roommate and friend ever since, she remembered Liz as “brilliant, acerbic, volatile, and fiercely loyal. In her last years, she became a fountain of life wisdom. Why do you care how people behave? You are the star of your own drama, and everyone else is just a bit player. In her case, that was epically true.”

…Wurtzel’s 1994 memoir, Prozac Nation, forever changed the literary landscape. It redefined not only what women were allowed to write about, but when they were allowed to write about it: their messy, early decades in medias res. Mental illness was no longer something to be hidden or shameful. It was a topic like any other, to be brought out into the light. Liz was suddenly the It Girl in New York, throwing epic, unforgettable parties in her loft. Suddenly, in the same way that she’d once drawn courage from my teenage writing, I now drew courage from her literary descriptions of early adulthood. “You should write about your war-photography years,” she urged me during one of her parties. And so I did. From then on, whenever anyone wanted to criticize women memoirists for oversharing; or dismiss personal writing as lesser or not literary; or shame us for describing, in intimate detail, the joys and miseries of human love, in all of its messy glory, we’d get lumped in together or collectively shamed as examples of what not to do. As the years wore on, we sometimes even found ourselves “oversharing” on the same stage.

More here. (Note: For my niece, Alia Raza, who sat many hours by Liz’s side as she lay dying, and mourned and grieved her friend in a thousand silent ways. RIP Liz)