Doctorow, Edgar Lawrence

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DOCTOROW, EDGAR LAWRENCE (1931– ), U.S. novelist and editor. Born in the Bronx, New York, Doctorow began his career as a reader of fiction for tv and film studios. This led him into editorial work, first at New American Library (1959–1964) and then as editor-in-chief for Dial Press in the 1960s. His reading of mediocre film scripts for western movies helped inspire his first novel, Welcome to Hard Times (1960), a black comedy of the Wild West. His second novel, Big as Life (1966), a semi-science-fiction tale, described two huge, naked figures being introduced to New York. Several critics saw these figures as an allegory of the atom bomb.

In 1971, Doctorow published The Book of Daniel, a fictionalized account of the celebrated Rosenberg trial and its radical legacy. The novel is a portrait of the defendants' son "Daniel" who was profoundly affected by the death of his parents at the hands of a ruthless and indifferent society. The novel's style anticipates many of the innovative literary techniques employed in his later novels – juxtaposition of historical fact and fantasy and cinematic switches of tense, scene, and voice. The novel was made into a film.

Ragtime (1975) weaves a story around a host of early 20th century figures in the United States, among them Houdini, Freud, Jung, Emma Goldman, Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Ford, Woodrow Wilson, and Albert Einstein, together with ironic comment on their achievements and later effects. Ragtime was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1975. The film version was directed by Milos Forman. His Loon Lake (1980) dealt with life during the Depression; World's Fair (1985) culminates in a boy's visit to the New York World's Fair in 1939; and Billy Bathgate was made into a movie. Doctorow's fiction utilizes the past to explore parallel tendencies in the present and the inability of the present to learn from the past and escape its errors. His City of God (2000) is a theological novel. Its characters attempt to find the coherence of life and the significance of its representations through the events that have befallen them. Rich in its allusions and structure, the novel becomes an accounting for the spirit of things unseen within the city of man. The March (2005) is about Sherman's march to the sea in the American Civil War.

Doctorow also wrote a play, Drinks Before Dinner (1979), which was first produced at the New York Shakespeare Festival's Public Theater. He was a writer-in-residence at the University of California at Irvine and taught at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York.

add. bibliography:

C. Morris (ed.), Conversations with E.L. Doctorow, 1999; M. Tokarczyk, E.L. Doctorow's Skeptical Commitment (2000); H. Bloom (ed.), E.L. Doctorow, 2002.

[Susan Strul /

Lewis Fried (2nd ed.)]