E.L. Doctorow, Literary Time Traveler: Magician Who Stirred the Past Into Fiction, Dies At 84

By  Jul 22, 2015 12:50 AM EDT
R.I.P. Edgar Lawrence "E. L." Doctorow
"E.L. Doctorow was one of America's greatest novelists. His books taught me much, and he will be missed," President Barack Obama said in a Tweet.

Edgar Lawrence "E. L." Doctorow, born Jan. 6, 1931, passed away Tuesday at a New York hospital from complications of lung cancer, his son, Richard Doctorow, confirmed.

Doctorow, the son of Rose (Levine) and David Richard Doctorow, second-generation Americans of Russian-Jewish extraction, was born in the Bronx. His parents named him after Edgar Allan Poe. Doctorow was married to fellow Columbia University drama student, Helen Esther Setzer

"E.L. Doctorow was one of America's greatest novelists. His books taught me much, and he will be missed," President Barack Obama said in a Tweet, reported Reuters.

"Through books of great beauty and power, and characters I'll never forget, he showed us America's great flaws and its astonishing promise, and our own," Kate Medina, Doctorow's editor at Random House, said in a written statement. "Edgar was fun, even as he was holding all of us to the high standards he set for himself. To be with him was to be at one's best; to read him was to discover, again and again, the joy of reading a master," Medina said.

In an interview to the Times in 2006, Doctorow said that a novelist "partakes of many identities. People say to me, 'A lot of your novels take place in the past. Are you a historical novelist?' I don't think of myself that way, but if you want to call me that, go ahead. Then someone will say, 'There's a certain political quality to a lot of your work. Would you call yourself a political novelist?' And I'll say, 'I've never thought of myself as a political novelist, but if that suits you, why not?' And then someone will say, 'You're a Jewish novelist' - and yes, I guess that's true, too. So I accept any kind of identity. I'm willing to participate in all of them, as long as none claims to be an exhaustive interpretation," wrote L.A. Times.

Doctorow enjoyed major critical and popular success over his 50-year career and is often considered one of the leading authors of the 20th century. He won the National Book Award for fiction in 1986 for "World's Fair" and the National Book Critics Circle award in 1989 for "Billy Bathgate" and in 2005 for "The March."

"I don't know what I set out to do," Doctorow said in 2006 after the publication of "The March." "Someone pointed out to me a couple of years ago that you could line them up and in effect now with this book, 150 years of American history. ... And this was entirely unplanned," reported ABC News.

Doctorow is survived by his wife, Helen Setzer; son Richard, daughters Jenny Doctorow Fe-Bornstein and Caroline Doctorow Gatewood; and four grandchildren.

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