In the book Conversations with E. L. Doctorow edited by Christopher D. Morris, E. L. Doctorow is asked again and again about history, accuracy, and historical fiction, especially in regard to one of my favorite novels Ragtime. Doctorow believes fiction is its own system of knowledge, and adds “there is really no fiction or nonfiction; there is only narrative.” Elsewhere he says, “everything that I made up about [J.P.] Morgan and [Henry] Ford is true, whether it happened or not.”
He is more direct and less playful in an interview, published for the first time in Conversations with E. L. Doctorow, between him and Winifred Farrant Bevilacqua. She asks: Do you agree that Ragtime is a historical novel?
He answers: I call Ragtime a novel. I’ve always found myself resisting any modification of the word novelist: historical novelist, American novelist, ethnic novelist, regional novelist. I always resist whatever word is put in front of the word novel or novelist. I automatically disagree. I set my novels very often in the past but if you think about it all novels are set in the past even those that are written about the present. The very act of writing is a delayed reaction. So whether it’s the immediate past or far past it’s always past.