Edgar Lawrence Doctorow
Biography of Edgar Lawrence Doctorow
Edgar Lawrence Doctorow (January 6, 1931 – July 21, 2015) was an American author. He published in over thirty languages.
Edgar Lawrence ("E.L.") Doctorow was born in the Bronx, New York City, the son of second-generation Americans of Russian Jewish descent who named him after Edgar Allan Poe. 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. There, he published his first literary effort, The Beetle, which he describes as ”a tale of etymological self-defamation inspired by my reading of Kafka.”
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 through. It was published to positive reviews in 1960.
Doctorow had married a fellow Columbia University drama student, Helen Setzer, while in Germany, and by the time he had moved on from his reader’s job in 1960 to become an editor at the New American Library (NAL), a mass-market paperback publisher, he was the father of three children. To support his family, he spent nine years as a book editor, first at NAL working with Ian Fleming and Ayn Rand among others; 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, a freely fictionalized consideration of the trial and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for allegedly giving nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Published in 1971, 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.
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.
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.
Doctorow died of lung cancer on July 21, 2015, aged 84, in Manhattan