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E.L. Doctorow, acclaimed author of 'Ragtime' and 'Billy Bathgate,' dies at 84

"Ragtime" author E.L. Doctorow has died in New York. He was 84.
American author E. L. Doctorow at the Rome Literature Festival in Rome, Italy in 2007. (Photo by Remi Casilli/Camera Press/Redux)
American author E. L. Doctorow at the Rome Literature Festival in Rome, Italy in 2007.

E.L. Doctorow, the author of literary classics like "The Book of Daniel," "Billy Bathgate," "World's Fair" and "Ragtime," died Tuesday at 84.

Doctorow — the "E.L." stood for "Edgar Lawrence" — died of complications from lung cancer, his son, Richard, told The New York Times and The Associated Press.

Doctorow, who spent a decade as a prominent editor before turning to the typewriter full-time in 1969, specialized in fiction set during momentous historical times.

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"The Book of Daniel," the novel that launched his career in 1971, broadly fictionalized the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed for turning over U.S. nuclear secrets to the former Soviet Union.

"Ragtime," published in 1975, tracks one New York family through from 1900 until the U.S. entry into World War I in 1917, included Harry Houdini, Booker T. Washington and Henry Ford among its cast of characters.

"Billy Bathgate," winner of the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction in 1990, illuminated the gangster world of the 1920s and '30s, following the adventures of a 15-year-old protegé of Dutch Schultz.

"Ragtime" was made into a motion picture which starred James Cagney and was nominated for eight Academy Awards in 1981. "Billy Bathgate" was also made into a motion picture in 1991, this time with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard.

Doctorow was one of the most highly honored U.S. authors of the last half-century. "World's Fair" — set in the environment of the 1939 New York World's Fair — won the 1986 National Book Award, while "Ragtime" and "The March" (2005) won National Book Critics Circle Awards along with "Billy Bathgate."

Late in life, Doctorow was awarded the Gold Medal for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction and the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction to join the National Humanities Medal that he was awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1998.

His last novel, "Andrew's Brain," published last year, was hailed as a "terrific comic creation" by The New York Times and a "tour de force" by The Sunday Times of London.

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