What EL Doctorow meant to President Obama, fellow authors | News Entertainment

What EL Doctorow meant to President Obama, fellow authors

23 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Ragtime’ author E.L. Doctorow dies in New York at 84.

Doctorow wrote 12 novels over a fifty year career, many of which combined fictitious characters with historical figures. Born in the Bronx to Russian Jewish immigrants in 1931, Edgar Lawrence “E.L.” Doctorow’s journey into the hall of fame of American letters was enabled by his reputation as a writer of historical fiction.He was first an editor of celebrated authors such as Norman Mailer and Ayn Rand and then, with his own books, reworked his country’s history into bestselling, thought-provoking, prize-winning entertainments.Doctorow was considered one of the most respected and critically-acclaimed authors of historical fiction, having written 12 novels and a handful of short stories and plays. His most celebrated work is Ragtime, a novel set in New York that tracks the city from the beginning of the 20th Century to the United States’ entry into World War One.

Doctorow, who died on Tuesday at 84, was a former book editor who quit his job as publisher at the esteemed Dial Press in 1969 to concentrate on his own writing. Doctorow was the author of a number of historical novels, most notably 1975’s Ragtime, which followed three families over the course of the early 20th century as they interacted with famous Americans. Among his many honours, Doctorow won the National Book Award for fiction in 1986 for World’s Fair, the National Book Critics Circle award in 1989 for Billy Bathgate and repeated the distinction in 2005 for The March. Given that his 12 novels, in a career spanning more than five decades, cover a century and a half of American history, from the Civil War to the present, and the American expanse from the Dakotas to Georgia and New York, Doctorow’s status as a “national writer” is, in fact, a bit too literal.

In books like Ragtime (1975), Billy Bathgate (1989) and The Book of Daniel (1971) he juxtaposed the lives of real historical persons – Houdini, Henry Ford, JP Morgan, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg – with fictional figures. Student of political and literary history and how they tell us who we are now. “Underlying everything — the evocative flashes, the dogged working of language — is the writer’s belief in the story as a system of knowledge,” he wrote in the introduction to his essay collection “Creationists,” published in 2006. “This belief is akin to the scientist’s faith in the scientific method as a way to truth.” Doctorow was among the most honored authors of the past 40 years. The novelist Don DeLillo said that Doctorow’s work reflects “the reach of American possibility, in which plain lives take on the cadences of history… In Doctorow’s wonderful Paris Review interview, published in 1986, he tells George Plimpton the origin of that novel’s remarkable opening chapter—the one you likely still remember, with its amused omniscient voice, which begins with the description of a three-story house in New Rochelle and perfectly encapsulates a certain blinkered view of the turn of the century: Teddy Roosevelt was President.

Doctorow’s prose tends to create its own landscape, and to become a force that works in opposition to the power of social reality.” Doctorow said once, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. The population customarily gathered in great numbers either out of doors for parades, public concerts, fish fries, political picnics, social outings, or indoors in meeting halls, vaudeville theatres, operas, ballrooms.

You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” For those who have admired Doctorow’s work for decades it’s difficult to explain what his passing feels like. And this was entirely unplanned.” A balding man with a soft goatee and impish expression, Doctorow was little known to the general public before age 40, but by late middle age was not just a popular author but a kind of wise man and liberal conscience. Late in life he told an interviewer that his father liked a lot of bad writers: “Poe was our greatest bad writer, so I take some consolation from that.” Edgar’s Bronx childhood was steeped in the cultural aspirations of the second-generation immigrant Jews who made up much of the neighbourhood’s population, and the milieu would feature in his fiction. Bush and urge him not go to war against Iraq or, to some boos, criticize the second President Bush and second Iraq War in a commencement speech at Hofstra University on Long Island. “With each new president, the nation is conformed spiritually.

Following graduation and military service – he was stationed in Germany in the mid-1950s – Doctorow, by now married, returned to New York and worked as an airline reservation clerk and then script reader for a film company. Named after Edgar Allan Poe, whom he praised and disparaged as “that strange genius of a hack writer,” young Edgar Doctorow read widely and decided he would become an author at age 9. “I began to ask two questions while I was reading a book that excited me,” he recalled. “Not only what was going to happen next, but how is this done?

Throughout the 1960s, with a growing family, Doctorow had to earn a steady living and he became an editor first at the New American Library, where he worked on the fiction of his political opposite Ayn Rand. It was the making of the novel, he recalled for George Plimpton of the Paris Review: “The realisation that I was doing a really bad book created the desperation that allowed me to find its true voice.

But he also championed books as a superior form of creativity, contrasting the budget for staging a battle on screen with the more probing and cost effective arrangement of a few hundred words on the page. “Fiction goes everywhere, inside, outside, it stops, it goes, its action can be mental. New Republic critic Stanley Kauffmann called it “the political novel of our age, the best American work of its kind that I know since Lionel Trilling’s ‘The Middle of the Journey.'” With “Ragtime,” published in 1975, he entertained readers and dismayed some scholars by mixing historical figures such as J.P.

In “The March,” he depicted William Tecumseh Sherman’s march through Georgia and the Carolinas from the vantage points of Sherman himself, a mixed-race freed slave girl, a brilliant but dispassionate battlefield surgeon and two Confederate prisoners who adopt various disguises. “History is the present. Asked how he researched the character of the financier J P Morgan, Doctorow said that he stared for hours at the portrait of the great banker by the photographer Edward Steichen. So to be irreverent to myth, to play with it, let in some light and air, to try to combust it back into history, is to risk being seen as someone who distorts truth. “Everything in ‘Ragtime’ is true,” he said. “It is as true as I could make it. Three years later he created a fictional teenage protégé for the real life mobster Dutch Schultz in Billy Bathgate, a story of gang-infested New York in the 1930s.

With his last novel, Andrew’s Brain (2014), he departed from his usual sprawling Dickensian narratives for a forensic exploration of a neuroscientist’s personal crisis.

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