In Memoriam: E.L. Doctorow
Doctorow was born in the Bronx, the son of second-generation Americans of Russian Jewish extraction who named him after Edgar Allan Poe. His father ran a small music shop. He attended the Bronx High School of Science where, surrounded by mathematically gifted children, he fled to the office of the school literary magazine, Dynamo. He published his first literary effort, “The Beetle,” in it, which he describes as ”a tale of etymological self-defamation inspired by my reading of Kafka.”
He returned to New York after graduating from Kenyon College in Ohio and completing 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 finished. It was published to positive reviews in 1960.
In 1969, Doctorow left publishing to pursue a writing career. He accepted a position as Visiting Writer at the University of California, Irvine, where he completed The Book of Daniel (1971), a freely fictionalized consideration of the trial and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for giving nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It was widely acclaimed.
Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction (also won by Billy Bathgate) and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction (also won by Ragtime and Billy Bathgate), a finalist for the National Book Award (won by World’s Fair) and the Pulitzer Prize, The March (2005) was widely recognized as a signature book, treated by critics as the climactic work of a career. It is a fictionalization of the Civil War campaign of General William T. Sherman.
“Someone said to me once that my books can be arranged in rough chronological order to indicate one man’s sense of 120 years of American life,” Mr. Doctorow said on the publication of “City of God.”