E. L. Doctorow, author of towering works of historical fiction such as The Book of Daniel, Ragtime, Billy Bathgate and The March has died. Born Edgar Lawrence Doctorow (he was named after Edgar Allan Poe) in the Bronx to a family of Russian descent, he graduated from Kenyon College in Ohio and attended one year of graduate school at Columbia University (during which time he married his wife, Helen) before being drafted into the US Army.
His first novel, Welcome to Hard Times, was published in 1960 and received favorable reviews, but family finances had him working first as a book editor, and then as editor-in-chief at The Dial Press, publishing work by the likes of James Baldwin and Norman Mailer. He became a full time writer in 1969 with the publication of The Book of Daniel, which chronicled a “freely fictionalized” accounting of the trial and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. That was followed by Ragtime, published in 1975, which has been considered one of the best novels of the 20th century. Eight novels have followed, most recently Andrew’s Brain, published in 2013. He also was the author of four short story collections, eight published essays and one play.
He has been awarded three National Book Critics Circle Awards, a National Book Award, two PEN/Faulkner Awards, and numerous other awards and honors, including a National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1998, the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for Fiction in 2013, and the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction in 2014.
Mr. Doctorow died on July 21, 2015 of lung cancer in Manhattan; he was 84.