E.L. Doctorow, Author of Ragtime, Dead at 84

23 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Celebrated American author EL Doctorow dies at 84.

He won the National Book Award for fiction in 1986 for World’s Fair and the National Book Critics Circle award in 1989 for Billy Bathgate and in 2005 for The March. “Someone pointed out to me a couple of years ago that you could line them up and in effect now with this book, 150 years of American history …EL Doctorow, the award-winning novelist and academic whom Barack Obama once named as his favourite author after Shakespeare, has died in New York at the age of 84.

In a career spanning half a century, Doctorow published 12 novels, three volumes of short fiction and a stage play, as well as scores of political and literary essays. His father, David Doctorow, ran a music store, and his mother, Rose Doctorow, was a pianist. “Not only what was going to happen next, but how is this done? It was his 1971 novel The Book of Daniel – a fictionalised account of the trial and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg during the Cold War – that earned him the praise of the US president-to-be in 2008, and caused the cultural critic Fredric Jameson to label him “the epic poet of the disappearance of the American radical past”. This is the line of inquiry that I think happens in a child’s mind, without him even knowing he has aspirations as a writer.” Doctorow graduated from the Bronx High School of Science and from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. And so I became a writer.” He studied at Kenyon College, Ohio, and Columbia University, New York, telling a Guardian interviewer: “From my undergraduate days, I’ve always been interested in the major philosophical questions that don’t seem to have an answer that everyone agrees on.” He was drafted into the US army in Germany during the 1950s, serving as a corporal in the signal corps during the Allied occupation and telling the Paris Review: “I seem to be of a generation that has somehow missed the crucial collective experiences of our time.

But I was past draft age for Vietnam.” His first novel, Welcome to Hard Times – published in 1960 when he was 28 – was inspired by a stint working as a reader for a film company. “It was making me ill, reading one lousy western after another,” he told the Guardian. “So I wrote a parody in a fit of rage, showed it to the story editor, and he said: ‘This is good, you want to make a novel out of this.’ I crossed out the title, wrote ‘Chapter One’, and went from there.” He combined writing with working as an editor through the 60s with writers including Ian Fleming, Ayn Rand and Norman Mailer, before he left the world of publishing in 1969 to write full-time. He spent a decade as a book editor at New American Library and then as editor in chief at Dial Press, working with such authors as Norman Mailer and James Baldwin. Prescott wrote in 1984: “In each of his books he experiments with the forms of fiction, working for effects that others haven’t already achieved; in each he develops a tone, a structure and a texture that he hasn’t used before. Ragtime in 1975 served up a Dickensian stew of Gilded Age New York, mixing historical figures such as JP Morgan, Harry Houdini and Emma Goldman with invented ones.

Historical and made-up characters also peopled 1989’s Billy Bathgate, featuring the real-life gangster Dutch Schultz, and The March, which he called his “Russian novel” because of its epic scope. Several of Doctorow’s novels including Ragtime and Billy Bathgate were made into films, but Doctorow was generally not pleased with the screen versions. If you’re doing it right,” he continued, “the reader will know who’s talking.” He married Helen Setzer in 1954, and they had two daughters and a son. “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.

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