E. L. Doctorow

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E. L. Doctorow
E l doctorow 2751.JPG
Doctorow in 2014
BornEdgar Lawrence Doctorow
(1931-01-06)January 6, 1931
The Bronx, New York, U.S.
DiedJuly 21, 2015(2015-07-21) (aged 84)
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
OccupationWriter, editor, professor
ResidenceNew York City
Alma mater Kenyon College, Columbia University
Notable works The Book of Daniel
World's Fair
Billy Bathgate
The March
Homer & Langley
SpouseHelen Esther Setzer (m. 1953–2015; his death)

Edgar Lawrence Doctorow (January 6, 1931 – July 21, 2015) was an American novelist, editor, and professor, best known internationally for his works of historical fiction. He has been described as one of the most important American novelists of the 20th century.

Historical fiction is a literary genre in which the plot takes place in a setting located in the past. Although the term is commonly used as a synonym for the historical novel, it can also be applied to other types of narrative, including theatre, opera, cinema and television, as well as video games and graphic novels.


He wrote twelve novels, three volumes of short fiction and a stage drama. They included the award-winning novels Ragtime (1975), Billy Bathgate (1989), and The March (2005). These, like many of his other works, placed fictional characters in recognizable historical contexts, with known historical figures, and often used different narrative styles. His stories were recognized for their originality and versatility, and Doctorow was praised for his audacity and imagination. [1]

<i>Ragtime</i> (novel) novel by E. L. Doctorow

Ragtime is a novel by E. L. Doctorow, published in 1975. This work of historical fiction is mainly set in the New York City area from 1902 until 1912. A unique adaptation of the historical narrative genre with a 1970s slant, the novel blends fictional and historical figures into a framework that revolves around events, characters, and ideas important in American history.

<i>Billy Bathgate</i> novel by E. L. Doctorow

Billy Bathgate is a 1989 novel by author E. L. Doctorow that won the 1989 National Book Critics Circle award for fiction for 1990, the 1990 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the 1990 William Dean Howells Medal, and was the runner-up for the 1990 Pulitzer Prize and the 1989 National Book Award.

<i>The March</i> (novel) novel by E. L. Doctorow

The March is a 2005 historical fiction novel by E. L. Doctorow. It won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction (2006) and the National Book Critics Circle Award/Fiction (2005).

A number of Doctorow's novels were also adapted for the screen, including Welcome to Hard Times (1967) starring Henry Fonda, Daniel (1983) starring Timothy Hutton, Billy Bathgate (1991) starring Dustin Hoffman, and Wakefield (2016) starring Bryan Cranston. His most notable adaptations were for the film Ragtime (1981) and the Broadway musical of the same name (1998), which won four Tony Awards.

<i>Welcome to Hard Times</i> (film) 1967 film by Burt Kennedy

Welcome to Hard Times is a 1967 American western film directed by Burt Kennedy and starring Henry Fonda as the leader of a dying town who is too weak to stand up to a brute terrorizing the few remaining residents. It is based upon a novel by the same name by E. L. Doctorow.

Henry Fonda American actor

Henry Jaynes Fonda was an American film and stage actor with a career spanning five decades.

<i>Daniel</i> (film) 1983 film by Sidney Lumet

Daniel is a 1983 British-American drama film which was adapted by E. L. Doctorow from his 1971 novel The Book of Daniel. It was directed by Sidney Lumet.

Doctorow was the recipient of numerous writing awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award for Ragtime , National Book Critics Circle Award for Billy Bathgate , National Book Critics Circle Award for The March, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for Fiction. Former President Barack Obama called him "one of America's greatest novelists". [2]

National Book Critics Circle Award set of annual American literary awards

The National Book Critics Circle Awards are a set of annual American literary awards by the National Book Critics Circle to promote "the finest books and reviews published in English". The first NBCC awards were announced and presented January 16, 1976.

American Academy of Arts and Letters honor society

The American Academy of Arts and Letters is a 250-member honor society; its goal is to "foster, assist, and sustain excellence" in American literature, music, and art. Located in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City, it shares Audubon Terrace, a complex on Broadway between West 155th and 156th Streets, with the Hispanic Society of America and Boricua College.

Barack Obama 44th president of the United States

Barack Hussein Obama II is an American attorney and politician who served as the 44th president of the United States from 2009 to 2017. A member of the Democratic Party, he was the first African American to be elected to the presidency. He previously served as a U.S. senator from Illinois from 2005 to 2008.

Early life

Doctorow was born in the Bronx, the son of Rose (Levine) and David Richard Doctorow, second-generation Americans of Russian Jewish extraction who named him after Edgar Allan Poe. [3] His father ran a small music shop. [4] He attended city public grade schools and Bronx Science where, surrounded by mathematically gifted children, he fled to the office of the school literary magazine, Dynamo, which published his first literary effort. He then enrolled in a journalism class to increase his opportunities to write. [5]

The Bronx Borough in New York City and county in New York, United States

The Bronx is the northernmost of the five boroughs of New York City, in the U.S. state of New York. It is south of Westchester County; northeast and east of Manhattan, across the Harlem River; and north of Queens, across the East River. Since 1914, the borough has had the same boundaries as Bronx County, the third-most densely populated county in the United States.

Edgar Allan Poe 19th-century American author, poet, editor and literary critic

Edgar Allan Poe was an American writer, editor, and literary critic. Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and the macabre. He is widely regarded as a central figure of Romanticism in the United States and of American literature as a whole, and he was one of the country's earliest practitioners of the short story. He is generally considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre and is further credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction. He was the first well-known American writer to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career.

Doctorow attended Kenyon College in Ohio, where he studied with John Crowe Ransom, acted in college theater productions and majored in philosophy. While at Kenyon College, Doctorow joined the Middle Kenyon Association, and befriended Richard H. Collin. [6] [7] After graduating with honors in 1952, he completed a year of graduate work in English drama at Columbia University before being drafted into the United States Army. In 1954 and 1955, he served as a corporal in the signal corps in West Germany. [8] [9]

Kenyon College private liberal arts college in Gambier, Ohio, United States

Kenyon College is a private liberal arts college in Gambier, Ohio. It was founded in 1824 by Philander Chase. Kenyon College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

John Crowe Ransom American poet

John Crowe Ransom was an American educator, scholar, literary critic, poet, essayist and editor. He is considered to be a founder of the New Criticism school of literary criticism. As a faculty member at Kenyon College, he was the first editor of the widely regarded Kenyon Review. Highly respected as a teacher and mentor to a generation of accomplished students, he also was a prize-winning poet and essayist.

Richard H. Collin was an American historian, university professor, food critic, and cookbook writer. He was notable for his research in the life and presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. Collin's contributions to Theodore Roosevelt scholarship included his dissertation, two monographs on Roosevelt, editing a book length collection of papers on the President, journal articles, and book reviews related to other writers' works on the President. His food writing, much of it written together with his wife Rima, included cookbooks and restaurant reviews.

Back in New York after military service, Doctorow worked as a reader for a motion picture company; reading so many Westerns inspired his first novel, Welcome to Hard Times . Begun as a parody of western fiction, it evolved into a reclamation of the genre. [10] It was published to positive reviews in 1960, with Wirt Williams of the New York Times describing it as "taut and dramatic, exciting and successfully symbolic." [11]

When asked how he decided to become a writer, he said, "I was a child who read everything I could get my hands on. Eventually, I asked of a story not only what was to happen next, but how is this done? How am I made to live from words on a page? And so I became a writer." [12]


"When you'd read Edgar's manuscripts, it was done. That's just the kind of writer he was; he got everything right the first time. I can't think of any editorial problem we had. Even remotely. Nothing."

Jason Epstein, Doctorow's book editor [13]

To support his family, Doctorow spent nine years as a book editor, first at New American Library working with Ian Fleming and Ayn Rand among others; and from 1964, as editor-in-chief at Dial Press, publishing work by James Baldwin, Norman Mailer, Ernest J. Gaines, and William Kennedy, among others. [14] [15] [16]

In 1969, Doctorow left publishing to pursue a writing career. He accepted a position as Visiting Writer at the University of California, Irvine, where he completed The Book of Daniel (1971), [17] a freely fictionalized consideration of the trial and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for giving nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It was widely acclaimed, called a "masterpiece" by The Guardian , and said by The New York Times to launch the author into "the first rank of American writers" according to Christopher Lehmann-Haupt. [18]

Doctorow's next book, written in his home in New Rochelle, New York, was Ragtime (1975), later named one of the 100 best novels of the 20th century by the Modern Library editorial board. [19] His subsequent work includes the award-winning novels World's Fair (1985), Billy Bathgate (1989), and The March (2005), as well as several volumes of essays and short fiction.

Novelist Jay Parini is impressed by Doctorow's skill at writing fictionalized history in a unique style, "a kind of detached but arresting presentation of history that mingled real characters with fictional ones in ways that became his signature manner". [20] In Ragtime, for example, he arranges the story to include Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung sharing a ride at Coney Island, or a setting with Henry Ford and J. P. Morgan. [20]

Despite the immense research Doctorow needed to create stories based on real events and real characters, reviewer John Brooks notes that they were nevertheless "alive enough never to smell the research in old newspaper files that they must have required". [1] Doctorow demonstrated in most of his novels "that the past is very much alive, but that it's not easily accessed," writes Parini. "We tell and retell stories, and these stories illuminate our daily lives. He showed us again and again that our past is our present, and that those not willing to grapple with 'what happened' will be condemned to repeat its worst errors." [20]

Doctorow also taught at Sarah Lawrence College, the Yale School of Drama, the University of Utah, the University of California, Irvine, and Princeton University. He was the Loretta and Lewis Glucksman Professor of English and American Letters at New York University. In 2001 he donated his papers to the Fales Library of New York University. The library's director, Marvin Taylor, said Doctorow was "one of the most important American novelists of the 20th century". [21]

Doctorow opposed unofficial Iranian translations of foreign works; Iran does not follow foreign copyright agreements. [22]

Personal life and death

In 1954, Doctorow married fellow Columbia University student Helen Esther Setzer while serving in the U.S. Army in West Germany. [23] [24] The couple had three children: television writer and producer Richard Doctorow, singer-songwriter and record producer Caroline Doctorow Gatewood and Jenny Doctorow Fe-Bornstein . [14]

He died of lung cancer on July 21, 2015, aged 84, in Manhattan. [25] He is interred in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Awards and honors



Short story collections



See also

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  1. 1 2 "E. L. Doctorow Dies at 84; Literary Time Traveler Stirred Past Into Fiction", The New York Times, July 21, 2015
  2. "US novelist EL Doctorow dies at 84", BBC, July 22, 2015
  3. Wutz, Michael. "The E.L. Doctorow I Remember", Newsweek, July 22, 2015
  4. Intersections: E.L. Doctorow on Rhythm and Writing, June 28, 2004.
  5. American Conversation: E. L. Doctorow, September 25, 2008.
  6. "Literary giant". Kenyon News. Gambier, OH: Kenyon College. July 22, 2015. Retrieved November 4, 2015.
  7. "A group of Middle Kenyon (non-fraternal) residents in 1952. Included are Roger Hecht '55, Richard H. Collin '54, E.L. Doctorow '52, William T. Goldhurst '53, Martin Nemer '52, Harvey Robbin III '52, and Stanford B. Benjamin '53". Kenyon News. Gambier, OH: Kenyon College. July 22, 2015. Retrieved November 4, 2015.
  8. "Beloved Historical Fiction Author E.L. Doctorow Dead At 84", Huffington Post, July 21, 2015
  9. "E.L. Doctorow, acclaimed author of historical fiction, dies at 84", PBS, July 21, 2015
  10. "Interview: E.L. Doctorow discusses the art of writing and his new book of essays, Reporting the Universe". Talk of the Nation. NPR . Retrieved February 9, 2011.
  11. Williams, Wirt. "'Welcome to Hard Times'", New York Times, September 25, 1960
  12. "EL Doctorow, author of Ragtime and Billy Bathgate, dies in New York aged 84", The Guardian, U.K., July 22, 2015
  13. "E.L. Doctorow’s Longtime Editor: 'No One Could Possibly Say a Bad Word About Him'", Vanity Fair, July 22, 2015
  14. 1 2 "E L Doctorow, author – obituary". The Telegraph. July 22, 2015. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
  15. 1 2 3 Homberger, Eric (July 22, 2015). "EL Doctorow obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
  16. Jones, Malcolm (July 21, 2015). "E.L. Doctorow's Readers Were Guaranteed a Good Time". The Daily Beast. Retrieved July 23, 2015.
  17. Robinson, Will (July 21, 2015). "E.L. Doctorow, Ragtime author, dies at 84". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved July 23, 2015.
  18. Review of 'The Book of Daniel', The New York Times, June 7, 1971.
  19. "Modern Library: 100 Best Novels". Random House. Retrieved September 5, 2008.
  20. 1 2 3 "E.L. Doctorow's gift", CNN, July 22, 2015
  21. "From Ragtime to Our Time E.L. Doctorow Donates His Papers to NYU’S Fales Library", New York University, April 19, 2001
  22. Dehghan, Saeed Kamali (July 29, 2015). "The day I met EL Doctorow: from Persian translations to his view of a writer's duty". The Guardian . Retrieved December 25, 2018. When I exchanged emails with Nobel laureate JM Coetzee in 2008, he asked me to pass on a statement to the Iranian news agencies[...] Mario Vargas Llosa, [...] reacted similarly.
  23. Contemporary Jewish-American Novelists: A Bio-critical Sourcebook (1997) by Joel Shatzky and Michael Taub, pp. 54
  24. Woo, Elaine (July 21, 2015). "E.L. Doctorow dies at 84; 'Ragtime' author turned history into myth". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
  25. "E.L. Doctorow, Author of Historical Fiction, Dies at 84". The New York Times. July 21, 2015. Retrieved July 21, 2015.
  26. Ragtime wins the National Book Critics Circle Award. History Channel. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
  27. "National Book Awards – 1986". NBF. Retrieved March 26, 2012.
  28. "New York State Author and State Poet Awards". Albany University.
  29. Johnson, M. Alex (July 21, 2015). "E.L. Doctorow, Acclaimed Author of 'Ragtime' and 'Billy Bathgate,' Dies at 84". NBC News. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
  30. "Doctorow's 'Bathgate' Wins Faulkner Award". The New York Times. April 7, 1990. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
  31. The William Dean Howells Medal Archived March 14, 2015, at the Wayback Machine . American Academy of Arts and Letters. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
  32. "Winners of the National Humanities Medal and the Charles Frankel Prize". National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Archived from the original on July 21, 2011. Retrieved September 5, 2008.
  33. "National Humanities Medal: Nominations", NEH.gov. Retrieved March 26, 2012.
  34. E.L. Doctorow. Tulsa Library Trust's Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
  35. "Kenyon Review for Literary Achievement". Kenyon Review.
  36. "Beloved Historical Fiction Author E.L. Doctorow Dead At 84". The Huffington Post. July 21, 2015. Retrieved July 21, 2015.
  37. Thompson, Bob (February 21, 2006). "Doctorow's 'The March' Wins Top Honor". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
  38. "Saint Louis Literary Award - Saint Louis University". SLU.
  39. Saint Louis University Library Associates. "Noted Novelist E. L. Doctorow to be Honored as 41st Annual Saint Louis Literary Award Recipient" . Retrieved July 25, 2016.
  40. 2012 PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction. PEN American Center. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
  41. James McBride wins US National Book Award, BBC News, November 21, 2013
  42. Gold Medal Archived October 13, 2008, at the Wayback Machine . American Academy of Arts and Letters. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
  43. Alison Flood. "E.L. Doctorow wins Library of Congress prize for American fiction", The Guardian, April 17, 2014. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  44. Robertson, Michael (1992). "Cultural Hegemony Goes to the Fair: The Case of E. L. Doctorow's World's Fair". University of Kansas. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
  45. Scott, A. O. (March 5, 2000). "A Thinking Man's Miracle". The New York Times. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
  46. Kaufman, Leslie (March 28, 2013). "A New Doctorow Novel". The New York Times.
  47. Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (November 6, 1984). "Lives of the Poets". The New York Times. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
  48. Eder, Richard (November 24, 1978). "Stage: Doctorow's 'Drinks Before Dinner'". The New York Times. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
  49. Conversations with E.L. Doctorow (1999) by E.L. Doctorow and Christopher D. Morris, chronology
  50. "'Jack London, Hemingway and the Constitution'", The New York Times, November 4, 1993
  51. Doctorow, E. L. (September 9, 2004). "How Then Can He Mourn?".
  52. Powers, Ron (September 24, 2006). "Text Messages". The New York Times. Retrieved July 22, 2015.

Further reading

Book reviews