Novelist E.L. Doctorow, who penned Ragtime and Billy Bathgate, died Tuesday. He was 84.

E.L. Doctorow Dies

Doctorow’s son confirmed his death from complications of lung cancer to The New York Times.

Doctorow’s books gave glimpses into corners of the American story, from the cities to the countryside. He interwove significant historical figures such as Sigmund Freud and Coalhouse Porter with characters of his own invention. Though his novels often took place decades into the past, Doctorow did not consider himself a historical novelist.

“I don’t agree with that. I think all novels are about the past, the near past, the far past, some of them have a wider focus and include more of society and recognizable events and people,” Doctorow told NPR last year.

“The historical novel seems to me a misnomer, and many of my books take place in different places,” he went on. “It’s just as valid to call me a geographical novelist as an historical novelist. I think of myself really as a national novelist, as an American novelist writing about my country.”

Doctorow became one of five winners of the Pen/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction for his entire body of work. He also won the National Book Award for fiction, and was honored with the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American letters for lifetime achievement.

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