One of the world’s great authors has passed on. E.L. Doctorow, a gentle and much-loved man who lived in Sag Harbor and New York City, the author of Ragtime, Billy Bathgate, The March, The Book of Daniel, World’s Fair and several other novels and short stories, was widely praised and honored for his work.
His books have won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the National Book Critics Award for Fiction, the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Many were made into movies. All the stories were fictional, set in past centuries, and each was told from a different point-of-view and often with a different sort of narrator, or no narrator at all. He was an experimenter of style in that sense, and also a writer of material that was cut from a liberal cloth. His works, particularly Ragtime, which many consider his best, are wonderful to read and give you a great sense of the time and place in which the story is set.
Doctorow was born and raised in New York City and said he decided when he was 9 years old that he wanted to become a writer. He went to the Bronx High School of Science, Kenyon College and Columbia University. He served in the U. S. Army in Europe, stationed in Germany after the war. He leaves behind two daughters, Jenny Doctorow Fe-Bornstein and Caroline Doctorow Gatewood, and four grandchildren.
I met Mr. Doctorow on several occasions, one time at a lawn party where I asked him how he juxtaposed fictional characters with actual events and wondered if he took history and wrote fiction over it or the other way around. He said he wrote fiction first, then studied and made the adjustments from the underlying facts afterwards. Otherwise, he said, he’d get too much caught up with the facts.
Mr. Doctorow also was the keynote speaker at the Dan’s Papers $6,000 Prize for Nonfiction in 2013, giving advice and encouragement to a large audience of writers and friends in the John Drew Theater at the awards ceremony there that August. Excerpts from that speech can watched at LiteraryPrize.DansPapers.com.