Barbara Ehrenreich, the author of more than 20 books on social justice topics ranging from women’s rights to inequality and the inequities of the American health care system, has died at the age of 81.
News of Ehrenreich’s death on September 1 has been freed by his son, Ben Ehrenreich, on Friday. He accompanied the announcement with a comment evoking the spirit of his mother: “She was never very much about thoughts and prayers, but you can honor her memory by loving one another and beating like a devil.”
Ehrenreich has struggled for more than half a century as a writer committed to resisting injustice and giving voice to those who were usually unknown.
His first book, published in 1969, Long March, Short Song, was an account of the student uprising against the Vietnam War.
In Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, her 2001 bestseller, she wrote an immersive experience of life as a low-wage worker in Key West, Florida.
The book helped raise awareness of an economy in which it was necessary to hold down two or three jobs to survive, and acted as a catalyst for the minimum wage movement.
Later, she used her name and energy to try to give low-income and other disadvantaged groups a direct voice to tell their own stories.
She founded the Economic Hardship Reporting Project which helps freelance journalists write about their lives, including in poor rural areas of the United States.
Ehrenreich, who earned a doctorate in cell biology before turning to social activism and writing, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000. She wrote an award-winning Welcome to Cancerland essay about the experience.
She brought her clear-eyed reportage on the subject of her own mortality. In 2018, she published Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer, in which she describes realizing she had lived long enough to die.
“That thought had been forming in my mind for some time,” she told the Guardian at the time. “I really don’t have any hard evidence on exactly when a person becomes old enough to die, but I notice in obituaries that if the person is over 70 there’s no great mystery, no investigation. is not necessary. It’s not usually called tragic because we die at a certain age. I found that rather refreshing.
Announcing his mother’s death on Twitter, Ben Ehrenreich echoed that point. “She was, she said, ready to go,” he said.