Post­ed by Evie Saphire-Bernstein

A book is not com­plete until it’s read. The reader’s mind flows through sen­tences as through a cir­cuit – it illu­mi­nates them and brings them to life.” — E. L. Doc­torow, The Guardian (Jan­u­ary 192014)

E.L. Doc­torow — writer, edi­tor, and teacher — died on Tues­day at age 84, due to com­pli­ca­tions relat­ing to lung can­cer. He is cel­e­brat­ed for his work, hav­ing been award­ed the Nation­al Book Crit­ics Cir­cle Award for his nov­el Rag­time in 1975, as well as being short­list­ed for the Man Book­er Inter­na­tion­al Prize in 2009, along with many oth­er dis­tinc­tions and hon­ors. Over the course of his career, Doc­torow wrote twelve nov­els, the most recent being Andrew’s Brain, which came out in 2014. He has also writ­ten numer­ous vol­umes of short sto­ries and essays. Main­ly known for writ­ing his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, Doc­torow will be remem­bered as an author who rev­eled in the col­lec­tive past, as if to try and dis­cov­er why we are here and what we are made of. His char­ac­ters are thought­ful and trag­ic, fun­ny and com­plex, search­ing for mean­ing in a world that has dis­missed it, and them.

Born in the Bronx in 1931, Doc­torow made his first major impact on the Amer­i­can writ­ing scene with The Book of Daniel, a semi-his­tor­i­cal nov­el loose­ly based on the tri­al of Ethel and Julius Rosen­berg. When the book came out in 1971, The New York Times described Doc­torow as some­one who, has leaped into the first rank of con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can writ­ers” with this ear­ly lit­er­ary achieve­ment. He is best known to the pub­lic, how­ev­er, for the nov­el Rag­time, a crit­i­cal look at the Amer­i­can expe­ri­ence just before World War I. It was ranked num­ber 86 on the list of 100 Best Eng­lish-Lan­guage Nov­els on the 20th Cen­tu­ry by the Mod­ern Library in 1998.

But Doctorow’s impact on Amer­i­can writ­ing can­not only be under­stood through book reviews, awards, and acco­lades. With his work, Doc­torow cre­at­ed an entry­way into the past, allow­ing the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion to exam­ine those before it with a crit­i­cal eye, infus­ing his­to­ry with emo­tion and heart, and bring­ing the past to life through his words. He is one of America’s most dis­tin­guished nov­el­ists, and his absence will be acute­ly felt by writ­ers and read­ers — and by any­one who desires to learn more about the world before they knew it.

Relat­ed Content:

Evie Saphire-Bern­stein is the pro­gram direc­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil. She grad­u­at­ed from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois at Chica­go with a B.A. in Eng­lish and a minor in Jew­ish Stud­ies. Before join­ing the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil team in 2015, she spent a year and a half work­ing with­in the Con­ser­v­a­tive Move­ment as the Net­work Liai­son for the Schechter Day School Net­work. She is a recent trans­plant to New York City, after liv­ing in Chica­go for most of her life. In her spare time, Evie is a writer and blogger.