How a Desperate E.L. Doctorow Started Writing Ragtime

E.L. Doctorow, who died on Tuesday at 84, was a former book editor who quit his job as publisher at the esteemed Dial Press in 1969 to concentrate on his own writing. His first three novels were well-received, but the novel that made his career was 1975's Ragtime. In Doctorow's wonderful Paris Review interview, published in 1986, he tells George Plimpton the origin of that novel's remarkable opening chapter -- the one you likely still remember, with its amused omniscient voice, which...

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