Julie Powell, a blogger who developed a huge following by chronicling her attempt to cook every recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering The Art Of French Cooking on her website before turning the story into a memoir (which was then adapted into a Nora Ephron movie), has died. The news was confirmed by her husband, Eric Powell, who told The New York Times that she had died of cardiac arrest. Powell was 49.
An aspiring writer at the time, Powell began her blog—The Julie/Julia Project—in 2002 when she was about to turn 30. An untrained chef, Powell challenged herself to cook every recipe in Child’s book and charted her experience with a down-to-earth, playfully prickly and profane tone that challenged preconceived notions about food writing and who was “allowed” to write about food.
Amanda Hesser, a writer for The New York Times at the time, profiled Powell and her journey in 2003, generating new interest in the blog and drawing the attention of publisher Little, Brown & Company, which turned it into the book Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen (later retitled Julie & Julia: My Year Of Cooking Dangerously in paperback). The book sold over a million copies and—along with Child’s own memoir My Life In France—became the basis of Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia, a sort of double-biopic about Powell and Child.
Though the film sanded down “the quirky and the spiky and a lot of the things everyone knew [Powell] for and loved her for,” her husband told The New York Times, she was okay with the changes and “was happy for the story to be Nora Ephron’s story.” It would be Ephron’s final film before her death in 2012.
Powell’s second book, Cleaving: A Story Of Marriage, Meat, And Obsession, came out in 2009 and was not as well received. It followed her experience learning to be a butcher along with the story of her having an affair and then her husband also having an affair. The New York Times obit says she continued writing after that, but she never published another book.
Still, the initial success of her blog effectively changed professional writing and brought it into the modern age. It was an early win for the democratization that the internet offered when it was still relatively new, and her life underlined the dream that anyone with a good idea and the talent to make it happen can be successful just by being themselves.