Helon Habila introduced me to EL Doctorow.
My first contact with his writing was in “Lives of the Poets” a novella and six stories published in 1984. It was an illuminating experience for a boy on the cusp of manhood with dreams of becoming not a doctor as my parents wished, but a writer, who many said would ‘die of poverty’.
The picture of EL Doctorow on the back of Ragtime, his magisterial and historical masterpiece, did not look like that of a poor man, so I made him, in many ways, my patron saint as long as writing was concerned.
I did not fall in love with EL Doctorow, however, until I read Billy Bathgate which remains for me, his best novel, with its mix of history and historical figures, popular and high literature as well as crime.
I loved the book, and years later, when I saw the movie, my love for its author grew.
EL Doctorow who died yesterday from complications from lung cancer was also the author of The March, The Waterworks and City of God.
Writing about EL Doctorow’s work in a Newsweek magazine article published in 1984, the critic Peter S. Prescott wrote: “The distinguished characteristic of E. L. Doctorow’s work is its double vision. In each of his books he experiments with the forms of fiction, working for effects that others haven’t already achieved; in each he develops a tone, a structure and a texture that he hasn’t used before. At the same time, he’s a deeply traditional writer, reworking American history, American literary archetypes, even exhausted subliterary genres. It’s an astonishing performance, really.”
That astonishing writer is gone.
Fare thee well, EL Doctorow.