“Sounds fun!” said Liz, and she meant this earnestly, not eye-rollingly. Four years later, in The Harvard Crimson, where we both became columnists, she would write: “I cannot deny that I have spent a fair amount of my time at Harvard at final clubs. I have drunk their liquor, snorted their cocaine, smoked their pot, popped their ecstasy, eaten their food and danced on their floors. I have no right to say what I'm about to say … But of all the stupid and morally questionable things I have done in the name of a good time—and there have been a few—I cannot forgive myself for hanging out at final clubs.”
The next thing I knew she was browsing my bookshelf, snooping. Wanting to know why I had so many issues of Seventeen magazine.
I told her I’d had a column for the magazine in high school, which I was supposed to have continued writing once I’d arrived at college, but with my schedule of classes and all the reading I had to do, I could never find time.
“I have time!” she said. “What’s your editor’s number?”
The next thing I knew, she had taken over my column.
Years later, she wouldn’t exactly thank me, but she would say that meeting a teen girl who’d published articles in a real magazine had given her the courage to do the same.
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.”
Read Elizabeth Wurtzel’s essay, “I Refuse To Be a Grown-Up,” published in The Atlantic in 2013
All of us who knew her, in fact, have a Liz story. Our friend Amanda Brainerd, a real-estate agent who, at 52, will be publishing her first novel this year, thanks in large part to Liz’s example and urging, sent me a typical Liz-related text in the wake of her death: “She accused me of stealing the hairbrush that Jimmy Cabot gave her. I still have it. Also once relatively recently I bumped into her in the pharmacy in the San Francisco airport, and she hugged me then said she had the flu and was looking for meds. And yet her fearlessness helped me tell my deeply personal story, albeit in novel form.”