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Few individuals have ever known how to glow as brightly as Eve Babitz, California’s most radiant novelist and essayist. There is no use in banality or mundanity to her, and Babitz’s extravagant life is easily her greatest legacy. In arguably the best descriptor of her lifestyle, Babitz writes, “I wonder if I’ll ever be able to have what I like or if my tastes are too various to be sustained by one of anything.” In her one life, she lived through more full lifetimes than most could even dream of.

This is my third time writing about Eve Babitz. Once for an unsent college application, once for a Michigan Daily Arts application and finally for my third Daily Arts piece — the one that sets me from “Contributor” to “Writer.” There is no coincidence in Eve Babitz grinning through these pivotal moments, and no coincidence that it will continue to occur.

As California’s literary darling and resident party girl, Eve Babitz established herself as the most underrated memoirist of the 20th century. At the beginning of the ’60s, Babitz found her first bit of stardom through a nude photo taken of her playing chess with artist Marcel Duchamp. This was then presented in an art show curated by Walter Hopps, with whom Babitz was having an affair at the time. Rather mischievously, she set this process in motion due to Walter Hopps inviting his wife to his gallery opening rather than her.

In the late ’60s, her magic as an essayist began to gain real traction. With her talent, lovers and friends in high places, Babitz had no shortage of literary attention. She frequently wrote essays and articles for Rolling Stone, Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Esquire, but these articles are hard to scour through online; they’re seemingly absent from most digital archives. At this early point in her career, the innate playfulness of Babitz’s character paired well with artistic strengths. Stakeholders and high-profile celebrities, artists and musicians alike were easily charmed by her antics. 

Her most notable novels, six mixtures of fiction and memoir, are the true diamonds of her work. She painted masterpieces of ’60s and ’70s sun-soaked California. Her full, charming life fills novels upon novels of cultural commentary and completely enthralling anecdotes. She writes with relaxation and fun, a stark contrast to the seriousness of the written word during this time. Humor is often a key ingredient to her works and mixes brilliantly with her sharp wit. Uniquely, she held the ability to turn her literary work into a love letter to California while still wielding full power over her story. Though the men in her professional life embodied the overbearing masculinity of the ’60s and ’70s, Babitz was known for fighting tooth and nail for power over her writing. Her writing was fully hers and reeked of champagne fizz, West Coast sweat and salty skin — and I write this with love, of course. 

Despite her clear talent and success as an essayist, being the it girl of bohemia didn’t do her literary reputation any favors. Her writing was easily discarded by the East Coast literary establishment (think Joan Didion–adjacent), and her hedonistic indulgences often overpowered the professional value of her work. Babitz turned her life into a self-made panopticon; her social vices — parties, sex, drugs — were all included in her range of outright memoirs and semi-fictionalized autobiographies. This style and content stood out vulgarly against the common broodiness of literary culture, and created a general refusal to acknowledge Babitz as a serious writer. Despite her clear talent and strong voice, Babitz was more often viewed as the girlfriend of various artists, musicians and celebrities instead of a literary force all on her own. In a pattern all too typical of the times, her romantic life overshadowed all else. Even now, it is uncommon to find articles and post-death tributes to Babitz that don’t mention her beauty, party scene or sex life. 

This image of Eve Babitz did not mingle well with the cultural hangover of the late ’70s. The excess hedonism was its boiling point, politics shifted away from her specific brand of free California love and the literary world felt they had entertained her for long enough. The world and American culture had taken bites of Eve Babitz just to throw her back up. In the decades following, her books would begin to go out of print and an accident involving fire, tulle and severe leg burns would turn her into a recluse. Eve Babitz was finally burnt out and, for the first time in her life, out of style.

Despite this, the words written by Eve Babitz refused to die. 

Beginning in 2015, several major publishing houses began to reissue her work. This renaissance is partly due to online reviews and book clubs, and partly due to her unrelenting wit, sharpness and blunt tone never fading from cultural relevance. With an audience of primarily women, there is more room than ever to share her cunning extravagance. This time around, Babitz sold more copies of her novels than ever before. She never quite moved back into the public eye, but her work continues to wreak havoc on literary tradition within the same establishment that tried to kill her influence decades ago.

Rather precociously, I was introduced to her work at the age of 12. During the beginning of this Babitz renaissance, I was young, lonely and an avid Tumblr user. In all her West Coast glamor, her quotes and images fit well into my blog-sphere and the trendy digital niches I lost myself in. My first gateway to Babitz was a simple text-post sharing her quote, “Women, especially, engage themselves in ghastly self-inflicted tortures for which they’ve been primed since childhood. After all, historically it’s always been dreadful for women, and the logic given to them was ‘It’s going to be dreadful so you may as well learn to enjoy it.’” The quote, taken from her semi-fictional/semi-autobiographical novel “Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh, and L.A.: Tales,” instantly piqued my interest, and I began to devour her work.

Slightly ironically, this wasn’t the first Eve Babitz novel I chose to read. Instead, the vulgarity of the title “Sex and Rage: Advice to Young Ladies Eager for a Good Time” caught my attention. I was enthralled by the casual brutality and wit within her writing — everything she felt and lived through was deeply intense, but it never really seemed to weigh on Babitz too much. She was bright and she was fun, and she held her pen like a sparkling knife. 

Recently, I was asked to share my comfort novel; “Sex and Rage” was the only work to come to mind. This is by no means her best novel, or even the one I would recommend as an introduction to Babitz, but it still holds claim on my heart. At this point, it feels more like an old bedtime tale than a semi-fictionalized account of West Coast decadence, alcoholism and breaking into the literary world. Babitz writes, “He dared you to believe you were going to die — when you at that moment knew, just as he did, that you were immortal, you were among the gods.” Lost in her writing, there is no feeling less foreign than the hubris of gods.

What fascinated me most about Babitz as a person was her ability to balance being a literary starlet and an extravagant party girl. Raised by patriarchy, it was never even conceivable that a woman, even myself, could hold this much variety. Babitz contained multitudes, and refused to compromise her fun for her brain. These two identities could never be independent of each other; her life of drama is her very best work. Young, shy and smart, I had never let myself believe these realities could coexist. I was entirely swept up by her messy life of late-night writing and mornings of waking up next to strangers. Being wrangled into Babitz’s California broke this misogynistic dichotomy and opened my eyes to all the ways in which I could live my own life. 

It is impossible, now, to write about Eve Babitz without ending in tragedy. On Dec. 17, 2021, I was completely devastated by the news of her death. She was 78 years old and died in her California dreamland. In her essay collection, “Black Swans: Stories,” she writes “I’m always amazed at how books find us at the time we need them, as if there’s some omniscient, benevolent librarian in the sky.” After her death, this is the quote I associate her most with. I found Eve Babitz at a pivotal point, one where I needed her writing and her light more than anything else. 

Daily Arts Contributor Ava Burzycki can be reached at