Obama leads tributes to novelist EL Doctorow

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.

Young Edgar’s report on the elderly man was replete with details both dramatic and intimate: How Karl was a great lover of music and was a favorite among the artists who frequented the famous concert hall. How every evening he would arrive at work with a brown bag lunch and a thermos full of tea, which he drank in the Old World style, sticking a cube of sugar in his teeth and drinking through the melting crystals. 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. He was a book editor before he was an author, working through the 60s with writers including Ian Fleming, Ayn Rand and Norman Mailer, before he left the world of publishing in 1969, to write himself. 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. 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. He was assigned to read dozens upon dozens of Western novels and determine whether they were good enough to be adapted for film. “I found myself reading these awful, terrible Westerns day after day.

Several of Doctorow’s novels including Ragtime and Billy Bathgate were made into films, but Doctorow was generally not pleased with the screen versions. An effort to vent his creative frustration into a parody turned into the first chapter of a more serious novel set in Dakota Territory during its 19th century boom. 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. You can get away with an awful lot,” he told the Paris Review. “One of my children once said – it was a terrible truth, too, and, of course, it had to be a young child who said this – ‘Dad is always hiding in his book.’” Author Margaret Atwood was among those who paid tribute, saluting her “oldpal”, whom she called a “pivotal” writer and “always kind and funny”. Morgan a talking-to, while the “younger brother” in the novel’s central family (the members of which are never named) is in love with real-life socialite Evelyn Nesbit.

In a review of “Ragtime” for the Chicago Tribune, the writer John Brooks commented that Doctorow’s characters — even the historical ones — were “alive enough never to smell the research in old newspaper files that they must have required.” “‘Ragtime’ is not social history disguised as a novel; rather it is the novel as social history, an imaginative flight based on the facts of the past but released rather than confined by them,” he wrote. Not everyone was as enamored. “It smacked of playing with helpless dead puppets, and turned the historical novel into a gravity-free, faintly sadistic game,” John Updike wrote in The New Yorker in 2005. It is as true as I could make it.” Though he experimented with subject and style, Doctorow continued to “fiddle” with history for nearly every one of his subsequent novels. Other times, it was the history of Bronx mobsters in the 1920s (“Billy Bathgate”) or Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman’s bloody march through the South (“The March”). “It offers an illumination, fitful and flickering, of a historic upheaval that only fiction could provide,” he wrote in his New Yorker review. “Doctorow here appears not so much a reconstructor of history as a visionary who seeks in time past occasions for poetry.” But Doctorow’s vision was about more than spinning a good yarn.

He’d been discussing the issue that he often finds himself talking about — that history is formed from the telling of stories — but this time, he accused President George W.

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