February 27, 2020

Elizabeth Wurtzel, Author of ‘Prozac Nation,’ 52

Elizabeth Wurtzel (Neville Elder/Corbis via Getty Images)

Elizabeth Wurtzel, whose 1994 memoir, “Prozac Nation,” made her a literary star and ushered in a wave of confessional writing, died Jan. 7 from metastatic breast cancer due to the BRCA genetic mutation. She was 52.

After announcing her diagnosis in a 2015 essay in The New York Times, Wurtzel became an advocate for Ashkenazi women, who are 10 times more likely to have the mutation than the general population, to get tested for the BRCA mutation. 

Wurtzel was born July 31, 1967, in New York. At the time of her birth, her mother, Lynne Ellen Winters, was married to Donald Wurtzel. Her strained relationship with Donald, who divorced her mother when Elizabeth was young, was a major theme in her work, but, as she wrote in a 2018 essay, she had recently discovered that her biological father was Bob Adelman, a photographer. 

Wurtzel attended the Ramaz School, an Orthodox Jewish day school on New York’s Upper East Side. Although she wrote that her depression started when she was a young girl, she was a gifted student and attended Harvard, where she began to write what eventually became “Prozac Nation.” Even before the book was published, Wurtzel was marked as a writer to watch. After graduating in 1989, she interned at The Dallas Morning News, and although she was fired amid accusations of plagiarism, she was hired as a music critic at The New Yorker, and her writing appeared in New York magazine and The New York Times.

“Prozac Nation,” subtitled “Young and Depressed in America,” was a bestseller and Wurtzel became a publishing world “it” girl. Ken Tucker, writing in The New York Times, called the book an “all-too-unsparing account of her life,” adding that “it would be possible to have more sympathy for Ms. Wurtzel if she weren’t so exasperatingly sympathetic to herself.” The Times’ Michiko Kakutani described it as “a powerful portrait of one girl’s journey through the purgatory of depression, and back,” comparing Wurtzel to Joan Didion, Sylvia Plath and Bob Dylan. 

Wurtzel’s 1998 book, “Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women,” and 2001’s “More, Now, Again: A Memoir of Addiction,” were commercial and critical disappointments, and Wurtzel stepped away from publishing. She went to Yale Law School and graduated in 2008. She then worked at the law firm Boies Schiller Flexner until 2012, when she left to devote more time to writing. 

Wurtzel married James Freed Jr. in 2015. He survives her, as does her mother.