Date: March 22nd, 2007 6:07 PM
From Prozac Nation to Yale Law School? Elizabeth Wurtzel's Unlikely Journey
Writer Elizabeth Wurtzel Talks About Success, Self-Indulgence and Life as a Law Student
By SARAH J. HODD
March 22, 2007— - Elizabeth Wurtzel has been called many things: crazy, depressed, drug-addicted, self-indulgent -- and those are just the names that she calls herself.
Now Wurtzel, author of "Prozac Nation," "Bitch" and "More, Now, Again," has added another title to the list: student at the Yale School of Law.
The woman who pioneered the genre of self-revelation, who defined a period in American culture by pouring out her soul and laying bare all her personal, and at times unflattering, secrets, is still finding herself.
"It's a bit of a shock. I'm going to be 40 this summer. … It never occurred to me that I'd get old. I'm graduating in 2008," she says, sounding as if she doesn't believe it herself.
So Young, So Accomplished
By all accounts, at 39, Wurtzel has already lived an accomplished life. She was educated at prestigious schools, including Ramaz, a private, Orthodox Jewish school in Manhattan, and Harvard University, where she won Rolling Stone Magazine's College Journalism Award.
She graduated and wrote for The New Yorker and New York magazine -- all before publishing a best-selling memoir and before turning 30. Then she went on to write two more best-selling books.
So how does a validated, established writer who has struggled with depression and drug addiction, who bounced in and out of therapy and rehab while earning success for writing about that same battle, end up at Yale Law School?
"What's funny is, I always wanted to go to law school. Everyone always told me 'you know, lawyers want to be writers,' but I was really interested because I started writing so young, and I felt like [law school] was something that I could do. All my friends have advanced degrees of one sort or another, and continuing school seemed like fun."
Outside of that degree-envy and the simple belief she'd be good it, Wurtzel says she was surprised to find how much she's actually enjoyed the return to academia.
"If I could find a way to practice law and still be able to write some, I think I'd really like to. It seems like a strange thing to do … but I definitely fell in love with the law, and it wasn't my intention."
And, like most other things in Wurtzel's career, success in the legal field appears within her grasp. To get her feet wet, the best-selling author and survivor of depression and addiction battles is working at a law firm this summer -- a large, established, corporate law firm that just happens to rank in the top 20 of the Vault's top 100 law firms.
Whether most law students would call law school "fun" is debatable, but it seems that little in Wurtzel's experience (at least the experiences she has written about) is in keeping with "most" people.
As a writer, she found success -- and, of course, success is a fertile breeding ground for controversy.
Though her experience with depression and drugs is not unique, her decision to expose those experiences was. Her first book, "Prozac Nation," is a best-selling memoir that chronicles her battle with depression. It is at once raw, exposed and darkly funny.
It is also, much like a person struggling with depression, self-indulgent, obsessive and suffocating to trudge through the mire of her battle. And according to Wurtzel, that was the point.
"The one thing I find insulting is that … I'm in on the joke. I know that it's self-indulgent. I'm amazed that people don't realize that I know what's going on," she says.
"Prozac Nation" became a cultural phenomenon, casting a shadow over the typical image of an Ivy League student and letting the world see that indeed, drugs, depression, casual sex and isolation could affect anyone, and the book was made into a film with an impressive cast of characters -- Wurtzel was aptly played by Christina Ricci, and Jessica Lange, Michelle Williams and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers were also in the cast. Although it was never released theatrically, the fact that it drew interest from such a talented cast speaks to the impression that the book made.
For many people, particularly depressed people, her memoir gave a voice to the depths of sadness that they felt and could not express.
"More, Now, Again" is another memoir -- this time a painful, eloquent recount of her addiction to several drugs (primarily Ritalin and cocaine). Wurtzel navigates heart-wrenching experiences like a driver on a race course, exhausting SAT words in her wake.
The press, however, wasn't always kind to her, faulting her for writing a memoir at the young age of 27, and for what some interpreted as metaphorically rolling around in the mud of her tragic coolness.
'It Didn't Make Me Any Less Me'
But the criticism didn't slow her sales.
So, after being depressed, writing a book, making money, acquiring fame and suddenly seeing her life changed … problems solved, right?
"The big shock in life is, you get a new job, you're still you. You go to college, you're still you. That's the big disappointment. Those big, transcendant moments that you're waiting for, it doesn't happen. I expected to feel so different, and I didn't. It didn't make me any less me," Wurtzel says.
Just being herself may have been the problem, as years of depression and drug addiction can become a problem for anyone.
But none of it has stopped her from moving her professional life forward at a speed that most would envy.
This week Wurtzel published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, stating that because the First Amendment gives people the right to say anything, they often do -- and often it's mean-spirited. Pleading for kindness, she wrote that the "unpoliced World Wide Web is really a mess. It's unpoliced, which demands that we be better people, gentler and more humane."
While it does seem ironic that the writer of these memoirs is asking people to limit what they say in public forums -- after all, "Prozac Nation" heralded what is now a culture of exposure, of laying open your life for any and all to see in a literary way -- more and more that exposure is now done in a literal way, with webcams, Myspace pages, blogs and YouTube.
The difference, says Wurtzel, is that this culture of exposure is becoming accustomed to the exposure of others, often without regard for the consequences the exposure may have on their lives.
The Next Step
Wurtzel plans to write another book in the next year, a series of essays about patriotism and great American inventions -- like Bruce Springsteen, and "having a pill for everything."
It's a typically eclectic vision, but Wurtzel says that, like an author's midcareer diversion into law, it's all just part of her journey.
"Isn't everything for everybody part of the process of figuring [life] out? It's an unfortunate thing about life such as we live it now, that people don't just explore. It's a little bit alarming that life has become such a plan that people don't give themselves credit just for living and enjoying it."