Dying Voices of a Generation

November 2, 2022 § Leave a comment

I find myself deeply saddened at the sudden death of Julie Powell, even though I never read her blog or her books. I knew her story, of course, through the movie Julie & Julia, and the fact of her blog rising to prominence as blogs were becoming a way for fledgling writers to find an audience.

Powell’s blog came about alongside other niche-interest blogs–like those of Maud Newton, Jessa Crispin, and Pamela Ribon–that allowed their writers to develop strong personal voices and consequently, personalities that made the internet feel chatty and homey. The format, it could be argued, gave authenticity to an idea of digressive personal writing that has come to shape how many serious essays are written today. That kind of writing hits right in my generation—Powell was only two years older than me—and I think speaks to the Gen X idea of looking for your niche in a vast landscape of others’ achievements and thinking out loud about where you fit.

On the flipside, projects like Powell’s sometimes unfairly got lumped in with similar projects that have been termed “stunt writing”—that of undertaking a ridiculously banal project and using it as a springboard for off-subject riffing, like A. J. Jacobs does in The Know-It-All. But unlike some of those writers, Powell, I think, was more focused on finding a bridge between the amateur and the expert in a way that gave the reader permission to enjoy our small victories amidst a sea of soul-crushing failures.

I’m also sad that her death, apparently from cardiac arrest, was likely due to complications from long COVID, as her last tweets indicated she had been dealing with a range of ancillary symptoms. It is eerie to read them now, to get a real-time report of someone dying without realizing that was what was happening.

The last time I felt like this might have been after the death of Elizabeth Wurtzel. That had nothing to do with COVID, but she falls into the same category of a contemporary I never knew, gone to soon with still so much left to say. Given how stubborn we are about COVID and its effects, I fear how many more voices we stand to lose.

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