January 8

This Day in History

Literary

Jan 8, 1976:

Ragtime wins the National Book Critics Circle Award

On this day in 1976, Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow is awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award. The book deals with race relations in the 1920s, mixing fictional characters with real figures from the era. The book was made into a 1981 movie and a musical in 1997. The book established Doctorow as a major contemporary novelist.

Doctorow was born in New York in 1931 and raised in the Bronx. An avid reader, he decided at age 9 to become a writer. He graduated from Kenyon College, then studied at Columbia. He worked as a reservations clerk at La Guardia Airport, then became a book editor, rising to editor-in-chief of the Dial Press by age 33. Meanwhile, he was writing novels on the side. He published his first, Welcome to Hard Times, in 1960. The book, about a frontier town, received little notice, as did his next book, Big as Life (1966). In 1969, he quit his job, moved to California with his wife and three kids, and began writing full time. His 1971 novel, The Book of Daniel, about the 1953 execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage, was more successful, and the next, Ragtime, became a bestseller. Doctorow continued writing and began teaching creative writing at Sarah Lawrence and NYU. He published several novels in the 1980s and 90s, including a coming-of-age gangster story, Billy Bathgate (1989, film 1991), and The Waterworks (1994), about 19th-century New York. He lives on Long Island.

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