E. L. Doctorow
is ironic that Edgar Lawrence Doctorow was named after his father's
favorite writer, Edgar Allen Poe. Both writers turned out to be
groundbreaking experimental authors intent upon producing imminently readable and
yet emotionally challenging literature. Both succeeded.
Born on January
6, 1931, in New York City, Doctorow attended the Bronx High
School of Science before enrolling in Kenyon
College, from which he was graduated with honors in 1952. He did
post-graduate work at Columbia University before being drafted into the Army, where he was stationed in Germany.
In 1954, Doctorow married Helen Setzer. He went to
work for Columbia Pictures, where he was a
script reader from 1956 - 1959, after which he took
a position as senior editor for New American Library, where he worked
until 1964 before moving up to the position of editor-in-chief at Dial
Press. Since leaving publishing in 1969, he has devoted his time to
writing and teaching.
Doctorow holds the Glucksman Chair in American Letters at
New York University and has taught at several institutions, including Yale
University Drama School, Princeton University, Sarah Lawrence College, and
the University of California at Irvine.
Highly regarded and always controversial, he creates works that
are marked by
in-depth philosophical musings, subtly diverse prose, and placement of
historical figures in sometimes unusual and often bizarre situations and
settings. His novels stretch the limits of the literary genres on which
In his first novel, Welcome to Hard Times (1960), a Western, he
fashions the materials of the Great Plains experience into an allegory of
man and evil. His second novel, the sci-fi/thriller, Big as
Life (1966), is a satire set in a futuristic New York.
The Book of Daniel, his third novel, Doctorow solidified his
position as a major American novelist. A fictional retelling of the
notorious Rosenberg spy case, the story deftly evokes the complex
anxieties of Cold War America, shuttling back and forth in time from the
1950s, when Paul and Roselle Isaacson are convicted of spying and electrocuted, to
the late 1960s, when their troubled son, Daniel, a grad student at
Columbia, must deal with the consequences of his unique birthright.
The book was adapted into the 1983 film, Daniel, starring
Timothy Hutton and directed by Sidney Lumet.
1975, Doctorow published Ragtime, a dazzling re-imagining of the
United States at the dawn of the twentieth century. The book was written
while he was a Guggenheim fellow. In it, Doctorow relies on a plot that,
as in City of God, mixes real-life figuresóHenry Ford, J. P.
Morgan, William Howard Taft, Harry Houdini, and Sigmund Freudówith a bevy
of fictional characters.
The book was a literary sensation and ultimately
named one of the hundred best English-language novels of the twentieth
century by the editorial board of the Modern Library. It was adapted into
a successful Broadway musical in 1998. Both it and the novel, Billy
Bathgate (1989), which was nominated for a Pulitzer and won the
PEN/Faulkner award, were adapted to the big screen.
Doctorow also wrote The Waterworks (1994), set in 1870s New York,
and City of God (2000), a late 20th-century exploration of ideas
and faith. He published a collection of essays, Reporting the
Universe, in 2003 and another of short fiction entitled Sweet Land
Stores in 2004.
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