Ragtime author E.L Doctorow, dead at 84, brought history to vivid life

(JTA) — American Jewish author E.L. Doctorow, who wrote the novel “Ragtime,” died at age 84.


“Ragtime” was listed by both Time magazine and Modern Library as one of the top 100 American novels.

Doctorow died of complications from lung cancer Tuesday in Manhattan, according to the New York Times, which wrote of his work:

“Subtly subversive in his fiction — less so in his left-wing political writing — [Doctorow] consistently upended expectations with a cocktail of fiction and fact, remixed in book after book; with clever and substantive manipulations of popular genres like the Western and the detective story; and with his myriad storytelling strategies.”

Author of a dozen novels as well as assorted other works, Doctorow primarily wrote historical fiction, spanning periods from the Civil War to the present day. “Ragtime,” published in 1975, is set in New York in the lead-up to World War I and includes characters like Sigmund Freud, Harry Houdini and Emma Goldman. The novel, with its variously comic and tragic revelations of social, economic and racial strife and striving in America, was adapted into a Tony Award-winning musical, and ran on Broadway for two years.

Doctorow won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. He was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Among his other prominent works are “Billy Bathgate,” “The Book of Daniel” and “The March.” Several of his books have been adapted into films.

Doctorow was born in 1931 in the Bronx to Jewish immigrants from Russia. He told the Kenyon Review that he grew up surrounded by talented Jewish refugees who had fled Nazi Germany. He attended Kenyon College and published his first novel, “Welcome to Hard Times,” in 1960. He lived in New York City.

Doctorow is survived by his wife, three children and four grandchildren.

Video: Doctorow on writing historical fiction.

Video: “You write to find out what you’re writing.”