Top-selling author Doctorow dies at 84

DOCTOROW: One of America's greatest novelists, said Barack Obama

AWARD-WINNING American-Jewish author E L Doctorow, who wrote fictional historical works such as Ragtime, Billy Bathgate and The March, has died, aged 84.

The Bronx-born son of second-generation Russian Jewish immigrants - his full name was Edgar Lawrence Doctorow - was among the most honoured authors of the past 40 years.

His prizes included the National Humanities Medal, the National Book Critics Circle award and both competitive and honorary National Book Awards.

Doctorow forged his reputation around a series of novels - most set in and around New York City - which carried readers from the 1800s to modern times.

Mixing fictional characters with historical figures, he looked back to the Civil War (The March), the post-Civil War era (The Waterworks), the turn of the 20th century (the million-selling Ragtime), the 1930s (Billy Bathgate, Loon Lake, World's Fair) and the Cold War (The Book of Daniel).

On Twitter, President Barack Obama praised Doctorow as "one of America's greatest novelists".

"His books taught me much," Obama wrote.

Doctorow taught creative writing at New York University and was an instructor at Yale University Drama School, Princeton University, Sarah Lawrence College and the University of California, Irvine.

He married Helen Setzer in 1954. They had two daughters and a son. Doctorow's parents, Rose (nee Levine) and David, ran a music store.

Named after Edgar Allan Poe, Edgar Doctorow read widely and decided he would become an author at the age of nine.

He graduated from the Bronx High School of Science and from Kenyon College in Ohio.

Doctorow attended graduate school at Columbia University, but left without completing a doctorate.

He also served in the American army, stationed in Germany.

In the 1950s, Doctorow worked as a script reader for Columbia Pictures, reading novels and summarising them for possible film treatment.

It led him to his first novel, Welcome to Hard Times, a Western published in 1960. Doctorow spent a decade as a book editor at New American Library.

His critical breakthrough came in 1971 with The Book of Daniel.

A fictionalised account of the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg case, it probed the central character's struggles over the deaths of his parents, executed as communists in the 1950s.

"History is the present," Doctorow told The Paris Review in 1986. "That's why every generation writes it anew. But what most people think of as history is its end product - myth.

"So to be irreverent to myth, to play with it, let in some light and air, to try to combust it back into history, is to risk being seen as someone who distorts truth."

A short tribute appeared in last week's Jewish Telegraph.

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