“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” – E. L. Doctorow
Edgar Lawrence "E. L." Doctorow, born on this date in 1931, was not only one of the most important American novelists of the 20th century, but perhaps one of the most important of any century in terms of his writing fiction about history. A novelist, editor, and professor, he is, in fact, best known internationally for his works of historical fiction, especially his multi-award winning works Ragtime, Billy Bathgate and The March.
A “cautious” writer who paid intimate attention to detail, Doctorow wrote 12 novels, 3 volumes of short fiction, and a stage drama. Ragtime, set in the early 20th century in New York, also became a Broadway smash hit, winning 4 Tony awards. Ragtime, Billy Bathgate, and his first novel, Welcome To Hard Times all became hit movies. His detailed writing was so effective that critics and fellow authors alike said that if you want to “be” part of history, read his books. “Good writing,” he said, “is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader - not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.”
Born in New York City, he was an avid reader as a child and enamored by how writers were able to make him “feel” like he was part of their stories. It was something he said he also wanted to do. After making his way West to study writing (at Kenyon College, Ohio) and doing a stint in the Army, he went to work in the publishing industry and then wrote Welcome To Hard Times in 1960.
In his teaching, Doctorow liked to tell E.L. Doctorow died in 2015
aspiring writers that, “A period of time is as much an organizing principle for a work of fiction as a sense of place. You can do geography, as Faulkner did, or you can dwell on a particular period. It provides the same framework.” And he loved that he could pick a place or a time and start writing.
“In fiction, you know, there are no borders. You can go anywhere.”
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