Many Westchester residents may not realize, but famed author E. L. Doctorow was a longtime resident of New Rochelle. The author’s historical fiction novel Ragtime is acclaimed many times over: it was named by Modern Library as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century, and was adapted for the movie screen and later for the stage as a Tony Award winning Broadway musical.
His footprint on the city is elusive in ways, but is firmly steeped in its roots. The city seems to distinctly comprehend the significance of this part of its history. In fact, Ragtime was set in the New Rochelle; its opening lines inspired by the home in which it was written on Broadview Avenue. The house is now one of the city’s Heritage Award properties, which recognizes New Rochelle properties that represent noteworthy historical and cultural heritage.
The author, whose other books include Billy Bathgate and The March, spent many hours researching historical facts for his celebrated books in the local library’s history room, which is now named after him. He was also instrumental in forming the New Rochelle Public Library Foundation.
Most recently, a bronze statue of the author was erected in Huguenot Park on North Avenue near Forest Avenue, in front of New Rochelle High School. The likeness of the author by sculptor Derek Chalfant sits on a limestone base. Chalfant used rubber molds of the actual books and of Mr. Doctorow’s shows and clothing, which were provided by the author’s wife.
The statue’s dedication was a one that brought the community together in celebration of one of the city’s pride and joys, including a performance by New Rochelle High School Chorale of a song from the musical version of Ragtime. Perhaps most significant was the presence of Doctorow’s wife Helen, son Richard and members of their extended family.
Speakers included Mayor Noam Bramson, who initiated the effort after Doctorow died in 2015, and New York State Assemblymember Amy Paulin, who secured a $125,000 grant from New York State that helped fund the work. In addition to the state grant, the work of art was funded through donations from Doctorow’s literary agent, publishing house and friends of his family.
The years-long effort to erect this memorial sculpture was brought to fruition by members of the Doctorow Legacy Initiative Committee, a group appointed by Mayor Bramson, including: Helen Doctorow; City Historian Barbara Davis; members of the New Rochelle Council on the Arts, which acted as lead agency for the project; and representatives of the New Rochelle Fund for Educational Excellence.
Photo credit: Sculptor Derek Chalfant with Mayor Noam Bramson, Helen Doctorow and State Representatives Amy Paulin and Steve Otis (photo by Nick Carter); E.L. Doctorow statue (photo by Theresa Kump Leghorn); Doctorow statue books (photo by Nick Carter).
About Mary Alice Franklin
Mary Alice Franklin is ArtsWestchester’s Communications Manager and Editor of ArtsNews. She has a Bachelors in English and Masters in Publishing, and has been published in Paste Magazine, HuffPost, Art Zealous, Art Times, and more.