Biography of E. L. Doctorow

Considered one of the 20th century’s most accomplished and eminent authors, E.L. Doctorow’s contributions to literature are manifold. Doctorow is the author of eight novels: Ragtime, which won the first National Book Critics Circle Award; The Book of Daniel, which was nominated for the National Book Award; Billy Bathgate, which won the PEN/Faulkner prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; World’s Fair; Welcome to Hard Times; The Waterworks; City of God; The March, which won the PEN/Faulkner award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and his newest novel, Homer and Langley. He has written two collections of short fiction and three volumes of essays, and was awarded the National Humanities Medal at the White House in 1998. His work has been published in over 30 languages and many have been adapted into films. His work is particularly admired for its synthesis of fiction and history. The New Yorker fiction editor described him as “the world's literary historian…he's made millions of readers understand the life of the past and he has this incredible gift for imagining himself in other times, but in a way that never seems pedantic or overly determined."

Edgar Lawrence Doctorow was born in the Bronx, New York City on January 6th, 1931, to second-generation Russian-Jewish Americans. His parents named him after Edgar Allen Poe and he took to using his initials as a way to follow in the footsteps of authors he admired who had done the same. In high school he published his first literary attempt entitled The Beetle, inspired by Kafka. At Kenyon College in Ohio he studied poetry and theater and majored in philosophy. After a year of graduate work at Columbia University he was drafted into the Army where he served as a corporal in the signal corps during the occupation of Germany during the early 1950s. When his military service was completed he returned to New York and became a reader for a film company. His first novel, Welcome to Hard Times, was a result of the large amount of westerns read during this time.

In 1960 he became an editor at the New American Library. His nine years as an editor were split between the NAL and The Dial Press. Here he worked with such literary luminaries as Norman Mailer and Ernest J. Gaines. In 1969 he accepted a position as a visiting writer at the University of California, Irvine, and completed The Book of Daniel, often considered his best work. The publication of this novel garnered glowing reviews from literary critics.

Currently, Doctorow holds the Lewis and Loretta Glucksman chair in English and American Letters at New York University. He has also taught at Sarah Lawrence College, the Yale School of Drama, the University of Utah, the University of California, Irvine, and Princeton University.

Doctorow is married to Helen Setzer. They have three children: Jenny, Caroline, and Richard.


Study Guides on Works by E. L. Doctorow

The Book of Daniel was published in 1971 when Doctorow was a Visiting Author at the University of California, Irvine.

Doctorow conceived of the idea for the novel in the late 1960s - an era of intense conflicts over Vietnam, the Civil Rights...