E.L. Doctorow Biography
Named for Edgar Allan Poe, Edgar Lawrence Doctorow occupies a central
position in the history of American literature. On a shortlist that might also
include Philip Roth, Toni Morrison, John Updike, Saul Bellow, and Don DeLillo,
E. L. Doctorow is generally considered to be among the most talented, ambitious,
and admired novelists of the second half of the twentieth century. Long
celebrated for his vivid evocations of nineteenth- and twentieth-century
American life (particularly New York life), Doctorow has received the National
Book Award, two National Book Critics Circle Awards, the PEN/Faulkner Award, the
Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction, the William Dean Howell Medal of the
American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the presidentially conferred National
Doctorow was born in New York City on January 6, 1931, and, like the novelist
Everett in City of God, attended the Bronx High School of Science. After
graduating with honors from Kenyon College in 1952, he did graduate work at
Columbia University and served in the U.S. Army, which stationed him in Germany.
In 1954, he married Helen Setzer. They have three children. Doctorow was senior
editor for New American Library from 1959 to 1964 and then served as editor in
chief at Dial Press until 1969. Since then, he has devoted his time to writing
and teaching. He holds the Glucksman Chair in American Letters at New York
University and over the years has taught at several institutions, including Yale
University Drama School, Princeton University, Sarah Lawrence College, and the
University of California, Irvine.
With The Book of Daniel, his third novel, Doctorow emerged as an
important American novelist with a strongly political bent. A fictional
retelling of the notorious Rosenberg spy case, the novel 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 and electrocuted, to the
late 1960s, when their troubled son, Daniel, a grad student at Columbia, must
deal with the consequences of his unusual birthright. The Book of Daniel was
adapted in 1983 into the film, Daniel, starring Timothy Hutton and
directed by Sidney Lumet. Four years after The Book of Daniel came
Ragtime, a dazzling reimagining of the United States at the dawn of the
twentieth century by means of a plot that, like City of God, ingeniously
brings together real-life figuressuch as Henry Ford, J. P. Morgan, Harry
Houdini, and Emma Goldmanwith an array of invented characters. Ragtime
was named one of the 100 best English-language novels of the twentieth century
by the editorial board of the Modern Library and was adapted into a successful
Broadway musical in 1998. The March was published in 2005.
Widely acclaimed for the beauty of his prose, his innovative narratives, his
feel for atmospherics, and above all for his talent for evoking the past in a
way that makes it at once mysterious and familiar, Doctorow has created one of
the most substantial bodies of work of any living American writer.
This biography was last updated on 11/12/2005.
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