E. L. Doctorow

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E. L. Doctorow
E.L. Doctorow, (photograph by Mark Sobczak)
Born Edgar Lawrence Doctorow
(1931-01-06) January 6, 1931 (age 84)
Bronx, New York, United States
Occupation Writer, editor, professor
Nationality American
Alma mater Kenyon College, Columbia University
Period 1960–present
Notable works The Book of Daniel
World's Fair
Billy Bathgate
The March
Homer & Langley
Spouse Helen Esther Setzer (m. 1953; 3 children)

Edgar Lawrence "E. L." Doctorow (born January 6, 1931) is an American author. He is known internationally for his unique works of historical fiction.

Early life[edit]

Doctorow was born in the Bronx, New York City, the son of Rose (Levine) and David Richard Doctorow, second-generation Americans of Russian Jewish descent who named him after Edgar Allan Poe.[1] 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. He published his first literary effort, "The Beetle," in it, which he describes as ”a tale of etymological self-defamation inspired by my reading of Kafka.”[2]

Doctorow attended Kenyon College in Ohio, 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 completed a year of graduate work in English drama at Columbia University before being drafted into the United States Army. He served as a corporal in the signal corps, in Germany 1954–55 during the Allied occupation.

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 it as a parody of western fiction, but it evolved to be a serious reclamation of the genre before he was finished.[3] It was published to positive reviews in 1960.

Marriage and family[edit]

In 1953, Doctorow married a fellow Columbia University drama student, Helen Esther Setzer, while in Germany. By the time he had moved on from his reader's job in 1960 to become editor at the New American Library (NAL), a mass-market paperback publisher, they were the parents of three children.


To support his family, Doctorow spent nine years as a book editor, first at NAL working with Ian Fleming and Ayn Rand among others; and from 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, accepting a position as Visiting Writer at the University of California, Irvine, where he completed The Book of Daniel (1971), a freely fictionalized consideration of the trial and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for giving nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It was widely acclaimed, called a "masterpiece" by The Guardian, and said by The New York Times to launch the author into "the first rank of American writers" according to Christopher Lehmann-Haupt.[4]

Doctorow's next book, written in his home in New Rochelle, New York, was Ragtime (1975), later named one of the 100 best novels of the 20th century by the Modern Library editorial board.[5]

His 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 essays, Jack London, Hemingway, and the Constitution (1993) and Creationists (2006).

He has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, the Yale School of Drama, the University of Utah, the University of California, Irvine, and Princeton University. He is the Loretta and Lewis Glucksman Professor of English and American Letters at New York University. He has donated his papers to the Fales Library of New York University.

Awards and honors[edit]



Short story collections[edit]


  • 1979: Drinks Before Dinner (play)


  • 1982: American Anthem (photographic essay)
  • 1993: Jack London, Hemingway, and the Constitution: Selected Essays, 1977-1992
  • 1995: Poets and Presidents: Selected Essays, 1977–92
  • 2003: Reporting the Universe, Harvard University Press
  • 2006: Creationists: Selected Essays 1993–2006 (Random House)
  • 2008: "Wakefield" (short story), The New Yorker, January 14, 2008
  • 2009: "All The Time in the World" (short story), Kenyon Review, Vol. 31, no. 1
  • 2012: "Unexceptionalism: A Primer" (op-ed), The New York Times, April 28, 2012

See also[edit]


  1. ^ NYTimes 2000-01-30 for members only
    This short story chronicling the career of a folk-rock musician is told in the form of liner notes. Doctorow recycled the protagonist's name for his PEN/Faulkner award-winning novel Billy Bathgate. According to an interview, he has been asked whether the protagonist of "Songs" is the son of the novel's protagonist. An age given in "Songs" fits a birth date given in the novel, yet he had not intended the interpretation, although he had no objection to it.


  1. ^ Intersections: E.L. Doctorow on Rhythm and Writing, June 28, 2004.
  2. ^ American Conversation: E. L. Doctorow, September 25, 2008.
  3. ^ "Interview: E.L. Doctorow discusses the art of writing and his new book of essays, Reporting the Universe". Talk of the Nation (National Public Radio). Retrieved 2011-02-09. 
  4. ^ Review of 'The Book of Daniel', The New York Times, June 7, 1971.
  5. ^ "Modern Library: 100 Best Novels". Random House. Retrieved 2008-09-05.
  6. ^ "National Book Awards – 1986". NBF. Retrieved 2012-03-26.
  7. ^ New York State Author and New York State Poet Awards
  8. ^ "Winners of the National Humanities Medal and the Charles Frankel Prize". National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Retrieved 2008-09-05. 
  9. ^ "National Humanities Medal: Nominations". NEH. Retrieved 2012-03-26.
  10. ^ James McBride wins US National Book Award, BBC News, November 21, 2013
  11. ^ Alison Flood. "EL Doctorow wins Library of Congress prize for American fiction", The Guardian, April 17, 2014. Accessed December 19, 2014.
  12. ^ Kaufman, Leslie (March 28, 2013). "A New Doctorow Novel". The New York Times. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Arana-Ward, Marie. "E. L. Doctorow," The Washington Post, April 17, 1994, p. X6.
  • Baba, Minako. "The Young Gangster as Mythic American Hero: E.L.Doctorow’s Billy Bathgate," in Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States.
  • Bloom, Harold (Ed.). E.L. Doctorow Chelsea House, 2001.
  • E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations, Chelsea House, 2001.
  • Fowler, Douglas. Understanding E.L. Doctorow University of South Carolina, 1992.
  • Girgus, Sam B. The New Covenant: Jewish Writers and the American Idea University of North Carolina Press, 1984.
  • Harter, Carol C. and James R. Thompson. E.L.Doctorow Gale Group, 1996.
  • Henry, Matthew A. "Problematized Narratives: History as Friction in E.L. Doctorow’s Billy Bathgate," Critique Magazine.
  • Jameson, Frederic. Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism Duke University Press, 1991.
  • Leonard, John. "The Prophet", New York Review of Books, June 10, 2004.
  • Levine, Paul. E.L. Doctorow New York: Methuen, 1985.
  • Matterson, Stephen. "Why Not Say What Happened: E.L. Doctorow’s Lives of the Poets," Critique.
  • McGowan, Todd. "In This Way He Lost Everything: The Price of Satisfaction in E.L. Doctorow’s 'World’s Fair'," Critique, vol. 42, 2001.
  • Miller, Ann V. "Through a Glass Clearly: Vision as Structure in E.L. Doctorow’s Willi" in Studies in Short Fiction.
  • Morgenstern, Naomi. "The Primal Scene in the Public Domain: E.L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel," in Studies in the Novel, vol. 35, 2003.
  • Morris, Christopher D. Conversations with E.L. Doctorow University of Mississippi Press, 1999.
  • Morris, Christopher D. Models of Misrepresentation: On the Fiction of E.L. Doctorow University of Mississippi Press, 1991.
  • Porsche, Michael. Der Meta-Western: Studien zu E.L. Doctorow, Thomas Berger und Larry McMurtry (Arbeiten zur Amerikanistik)" Verlag Die Blaue Eule, 1991.
  • Pospisil, Tomas. The Progressive Era in American Historical Fiction: John Dos Passos’ 'The 42nd Parallel and E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime Brno : Masarykova univerzita, 1998.
  • Rasmussen, Eric Dean. "E. L. Doctorow's Vicious Eroticism: Dangerous Affect in The Book of Daniel. symplokē 18.1–2. (2011): 190–219. https://muse.jhu.edu/journals/symploke/summary/v018/18.1-2.rasmussen.html
  • Shaw, Patrick W. The Modern American Novel of Violence Whiston Press, 2000.
  • Siegel, Ben. Critical Essays on E.L. Doctorow G.K. Hall & Company, 2000.
  • Tokarczyk, Michelle M. E.L. Doctorow: An Annotated Bibliography Garland Reference Library of the Humanities, 1988.
  • Tokarczyk, Michelle M. E.L. Doctorow’s Skeptical Commitment, Peter Lang, 2000.
  • Trenner, Richard. E.L. Doctorow:Essays and Conversations Ontario Review Press, 1983.
  • Williams, John. Fiction as False Document: The Reception of E.L. Doctorow In the Post Modern Age Camden House, 1996.

External links[edit]

Book reviews[edit]