David Rakoff, a writer known for his humorous essays and contributions to This American Life, has died from cancer. He was 47. Rakoff, a winner of the James Thurber Prize for American Humor, published three books during his lifetime, Fraud, Don’t Get Too Comfortable, and Half Empty, which began with the lines, "We were so happy. It was miserable." Rakoff was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, and eventually lost the use of his left arm during treatment. Edward Champion, a friend of Rakoff's, writes:

“There is little in this world that I find more galvanizing than someone in trouble,” Rakoff once wrote. “I am well aware of how dubious that sounds, coming from someone who makes a living writing in the first person.”

David wrote his essays extremely slow: just three slim yet pithy books in a little less than a decade. And this deliberate snail’s pace had much to do with the high neuroses David brought to the writing process. I once pointed out a few vaguely similar images he had used over a few essays. And David, mortified, put his hand to his mouth and cried out, “I’m a hack!” I then spent several minutes ensuring Rakoff that he wasn’t. In a world besotted with writers who recycle their own paragraphs or who fabricate quotes, David’s commitment to the original must also be memorialized. He was a man so committed to precise language that, during an 2010 interview, David and I spent five minutes looking up the word “vitiate” to ensure that we both understood its nuances.

Rakoff, a Canadian by birth who lived in NYC, learned he had a tumor while writing Half Empty, his book in defense of pessimism and melancholy. At the Awl, Choire Sicha has published a heartfelt remembrance, and describes Rakoff's work as "ahead-of-their-time documentations of the way we actually do live now. There was no better correspondent from New York City of his time." And we interviewed Rakoff in 2007 and asked him what he'd change about New York:

All my dreams are incredibly naive. I have a child's understanding of market forces and real estate, but I've been despondent over the city's extreme affluence. I understand how hospitable New York can be to the aspiring hedge funder, but I cannot for the life of me figure out how young people with dreams of making art are even managing to come here any more. And without them, the city will become like everywhere else. More subways, fewer cars, maybe? Affordable housing, blah blah, perhaps a more mindful approach before we efface the neighborhoods and districts that provided specific services and made the city unique and perfect and replace them with open-plan loft condos all sporting the same Wenge-cabinetry kitchens, for god's sake. New York is breaking my heart. I've often said that it's like having a really interesting boyfriend suddenly becoming really, really into wine, and having to have endless conversations about it.


Here he is on The Daily Show in 2010 discussing Half Empty and his discovery of the tumor: