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E. L. Doctorow

E.L. Doctorow, (photograph by Mark Sobczak)
Born January 6, 1931 (1931-01-06) (age 79)
Bronx, New York
Occupation writer, editor, professor
Nationality American
Alma mater Kenyon College, Columbia University
Period 1960 - present
Notable work(s) The Book of Daniel, Ragtime, World's Fair, Billy Bathgate, The March, Homer & Langley
Spouse(s) Helen Setzer

Edgar Lawrence Doctorow (born January 6, 1931, New York, New York) is an American author.



Edgar Lawrence ("E.L.") Doctorow was born in the Bronx, New York City, the son of second-generation Americans of Russian Jewish descent. He attended city public grade schools and the Bronx High School of Science where, surrounded by mathematically gifted children, he fled to the office of the school literary magazine, Dynamo, where he published his first literary effort, The Beetle, which he describes as ”a tale of etymological self-defamation inspired by my reading of Kafka.”

Doctorow attended Kenyon College, where he studied with the poet and New Critic, John Crowe Ransom, acted in college theater productions and majored in Philosophy. After graduating with Honors in 1952 he did a year of graduate work in English Drama at Columbia University before being drafted into the army. He served with the Army of Occupation in Germany in 1954-55 as a corporal in the signal corps.

He returned to New York after his military service and took a job as a reader for a motion picture company where he said he had to read so many Westerns that he was inspired to write what became his first novel, Welcome to Hard Times. He began the work as a parody of the Western genre, but the piece evolved into a novel that asserted itself as a serious reclamation of the genre before he was through. It was published to positive reviews in 1960.

Doctorow had married a fellow Columbia drama student, Helen Setzer, while in Germany and by the time he had moved on from his reader’s job in 1960 to become an editor at the New American Library, (NAL) a mass market paperback publisher, he was the father of three children. To support his family he would spend nine years as a book editor, first at NAL working with such authors as Ian Fleming and Ayn Rand, and then, in 1964 as Editor-in-chief at The Dial Press, publishing work by James Baldwin, Norman Mailer, Ernest J. Gaines and William Kennedy, among others.

In 1969 Doctorow left publishing in order to write, and accepted a position as Visiting Writer at the University of California, Irvine, where he completed The Book of Daniel, a freely fictionalized consideration of the trial and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for allegedly giving nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Published in 1971 it was widely acclaimed, called a “masterpiece” by The Guardian, and it launched Doctorow into "the first rank of American writers" according to the New York Times.[1]

Doctorow’s next book, written in his home in New Rochelle, New York, was Ragtime (1975), since accounted one of the hundred best novels of the 20th century by the Modern Library Editorial Board.[2]

Doctorow’s subsequent work includes the award winning novels World's Fair (1985), Billy Bathgate (1989) and The March (2005); two volumes of short fiction, Lives of the Poets I (1984) and Sweetland Stories (2004); and two volumes of selected essays, Jack London, Hemingway, and the Constitution (1993) and Creationists (2006). He is published in over thirty languages.

He has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, the Yale School of Drama, the University of Utah and Princeton University. He is currently Loretta and Lewis Glucksman Professor of English and American Letters at New York University.

Doctorow has donated his papers to the Fales Library of New York University. He is the recipient of the National Humanities Medal conferred at the White House in 1998.[3]


See also


  1. ^ Christopher Lehmann-Haupt. review of 'The Book of Daniel', New York Times, June 7, 1971
  2. ^ Staff. Modern Library's 100 Best Novels. Retrieved on 2008-09-05
  3. ^ Staff. "Winners of the National Humanities Medal and the Charles Frankel Prize". National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Retrieved 2008-09-05. 
  4. ^ E. L. Doctorow & Christopher D. Morris. Conversations with E.L. Doctorow, University Press of Mississippi, 1999, ISBN 1-57806-144-X p. 82


  • Arana-Ward, Marie. (April 17, 1994). "E. L. Doctorow". The Washington Post, p. X6.
  • E.L. Doctorow by Paul Levine, New York: Methuen, 1985.
  • Models of Misrepresentation: On the Fiction of E.L. Doctorow by Christopher D. Morris, University of Mississippi Press, 1991.
  • E.L. Doctorow’s Skeptical Commitment by Michelle M. Tokarczyk, Peter Lang, 2000.
  • Conversations with E.L. Doctorow by Christopher D.Morris, University of Mississippi Press, 1999.
  • Understanding E.L. Doctorow by Douglas Fowler, University of South Carolina, 1992.
  • E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime by Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations, Chelsea House, 2001.
  • E.L. Doctorow edited by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House, 2001.
  • E.L. Doctorow: An Annotated Bibliography by Michelle M. Tokarczyk, Garland Reference Library of the Humanities, 1988.
  • Critical Essays on E.L. Doctorow by Ben Siegel, G.K. Hall & Company, 2000.
  • The Progressive Era in American Historical Fiction: John Dos Passos’ The 42nd Parallel and E.L.Doctorow’s Ragtime by Tomas Pospisil, Brno : Masarykova univerzita, 1998.
  • Post Modernism: On the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism by Frederick Jameson, Duke University Press, 1991.
  • The New Covenant: Jewish Writers and the American Idea by Sam B. Girgus, University of North Carolina Press, 1984.
  • The Modern American Novel of Violence by Patrick W. Shaw, Whiston Press, 2000.
  • Der Meta=Western: Studien zu E.L. Doctorow, Thomas Berger und Larry McMurtry (Arbeiten zur Amerikanistik)" by Michael Porsche, Verlag Die Blaue Eule, 1991.
  • E.L. Doctorow:Essays and Conversations by Richard Trenner, Ontario Review Press, 1983.
  • Fiction as False Document: The Reception of E.L. Doctorow In the Post Modern Age by John Williams, Camden House, 1996.
  • E.L.Doctorow by Carol C. Harter and James R. Thompson, Gale Group, 1996.

  • The Prophet by John Leonard from the New York Review of Books, June 10, 2004.
  • Problematized Narratives: History as Friction In E.L. Doctorow’s Billy Bathgate by Matthew A. Henry from Critique Magazine.
  • The Primal Scene in the Public Domain: E.L.Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel by Naomi Morgenstern from Studies in the Novel, Vol 35, 2003.
  • The Young Gangster as Mythic American Hero: E.L.Doctorow’s Billy Bathgate by Minako Baba from Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States.
  • In This Way He Lost Everything: The Price of Satisfaction in E.L.Doctorow’s World’s Fair by Todd McGowan from Critique, Vol 42, 2001.
  • Through a Glass Clearly: Vision as Structure in E.L. Doctorow’s Willi by Ann V. Miller from Studies in Short Fiction.
  • Why Not Say What Happened: E.L.Doctorow’s Lives of the Poets by Stephen Matterson from Critique.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

There is no longer any such thing as fiction or nonfiction; there’s only narrative.

Edgar Lawrence Doctorow (born 1931-01-06) is an American author of several critically acclaimed novels that blend history and social criticism. Currently, he holds the Glucksman Chair in American Letters at New York University.


  • Planning to write is not writing. Outlining ...researching ...talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.
  • There is no longer any such thing as fiction or nonfiction; there’s only narrative.
  • You can’t remember sex. You can remember the fact of it, and recall the setting, and even the details, but the sex of the sex cannot be remembered, the substantive truth of it, it is by nature self-erasing, you can remember its anatomy and be left with a judgment as to the degree of your liking of it, but whatever it is as a splurge of being, as a loss, as a charge of the conviction of love stopping your heart like your execution, there is no memory of it in the brain, only the deduction that it happened and that time passed, leaving you with a silhouette that you want to fill in again.
    • Billy Bathgate (1989), Ch. 16
  • Murders are exciting and lift people into a heart-beating awe as religion is supposed to do, after seeing one in the street young couples will go back to bed and make love, people will cross themselves and thank God for the gift of their stuporous lives, old folks will talk to each other over cups of hot water with lemon because murders are enlivened sermons to be analyzed and considered and relished, they speak to the timid of the dangers of rebellion, murders are perceived as momentary descents of God and so provide joy and hope and righteous satisfaction to parishioners, who will talk about them for years afterward to anyone who will listen.
    • Billy Bathgate (1989), Ch. 19
History is the present. That’s why every generation writes it anew. But what most people think of as history is its end product, myth.
  • Like art and politics, gangsterism is a very important avenue of assimilation into society.

Interview in Writers at Work (1988)

  • Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.
  • It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
    • On his writing style
  • In the twentieth century one of the most personal relationships to have developed is that of the person and the state... It’s become a fact of life that governments have become very intimate with people, most always to their detriment.
  • History is the present. That’s why every generation writes it anew. But what most people think of as history is its end product, myth.
  • I try to avoid experience if I can. Most experience is bad.
  • The writer isn’t made in a vacuum. Writers are witnesses. The reason we need writers is because we need witnesses to this terrifying century.

External links

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