E.L. Doctorow
Lecture Date: 3-5-1990
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Interview: Publisher, professor, novelist, and playwright Edgar Lawrence Doctorow is introduced by John Eadie, dean of the College of Arts and Letters and Alan Suits, architect and founding president of the Dean’s Community Council. Doctorow commences his lecture by addressing “how writers write,” including the importance of sentence structure within a story, i.e. what that structure conveys in terms of meaning. He then shares parts of his own life and his path to becoming a writer, recounting a humorous anecdote that describes how he fabricated an interview for a journalism class. This experience made him realize that he had a passion for storytelling, even though he didn't get around to actually writing until long after he had finished his schooling. Doctorow’s initial itch to write stemmed out of his disgust for the Western novels he was required to read for the publishing company that employed him. He goes on to expound that his writing comes out of ignorance. He believes that writers discover what they are writing only through the act of writing itself; they cannot merely fill in a story with what they already know. Doctorow also goes on to consider how an entire novel can come out of one sentence, because one sentence can show you the voice of a character. He trusts in the inescapable presence of fiction in everyday life. The lecture is concluded with questions, where Doctorow is asked to clarify a few of his earlier statement involving his political stance, his view of the novel in society, and Sherwood Anderson's theory of the grotesque. He discusses the adaptation of Ragtime (1975) from book to film and the many advantages of literature over film. Doctorow also addresses how he answers attacks from his critics and comments from his fellow writers. He finishes this question and answer portion by discussing the inspiration for children to write, the use of historical events in his writing, and his novel World's Fair (1985).
Biography: E.L. Doctorow (1931- ), an American novelist born in New York City, is known for his works of historical fiction. Doctorow's work, highly regarded and controversial, is distinguished by deep philosophical inquiry, a subtle and varied prose style, and placement of historical figures in extraordinary situations. His novel, The Book of Daniel (1971), was nominated for the National Book Award, and Ragtime (1975) became a Broadway musical in 1998. Since serving as editor in chief at Dial Press, Doctorow has focused on writing and teaching, at such schools as University of California in Irvine, Sarah Lawrence College, Yale University Drama School, Princeton University, and New York University.