CNR Celebrates E.L. Doctorow, 'Ragtime,' and the City of New Rochelle


The College of New Rochelle celebrated the legacy of E.L. Doctorow on Saturday, November 23, at the tail end of a string of well-received performances of Ragtime, the musical based on his 1976 novel. The production by CNR Drama was presented in conjunction with the City of New Rochelle's 325th anniversary.

Often named one of the best novels of the 20th century, Ragtime is a work of historical fiction that takes place from 1900 to 1917, and is centered around the lives of three families -- a wealthy family living on Broadview Avenue in New Rochelle; an abandoned African-American child and his depressed mother; and a Jewish single father struggling to support himself and his daughter. Doctorow wrote the novel, published in 1975, in his New Rochelle home. It won the first National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 1976.

The College of New Rochelle traces its history back to the turn of the century, and has been an integral part of the community since that time, noted President Judith Huntington. In addition to providing quality affordable education for its residents, CNR supports local organizations such as Hope Community Services and the Adult Learning Center.

"Our nursing students do clinical placements at Sound Shore Medical Center, our social work students do field work at nursing homes and other facilities, our education students student teach and do field work in New Rochelle schools," Huntington said. "We are so proud to call New Rochelle our home for more than a century."

The welcome was followed by remarks from Marianne Sussman, chair of the 325th Anniversary Committee; and New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson.

Bramson presented a citation and the key to the city to Caroline Doctorow, who accepted them on behalf of her father.

"My father loved living and working in New Rochelle and raising his family here," Caroline Doctorow said. "So much so that, as we know, he immortalized New Rochelle in his master work, Ragtime." She also paid tribute to two relatives -- E.L. Doctorow's brother, Donald Doctorow, and his wife, Elly, also long-time residents of the city. Elly Doctorow was the first councilwoman in the city's history, and they were actually the reason E.L. Doctorow moved to New Rochelle.

"My father began his distinguished career here in this place -- sitting at a desk in an attic room in our house on Broadview Avenue, built in 1902 in the wonderful city of New Rochelle -- with nothing more than a typewriter, blank white paper and his extraordinary mind," said Caroline Doctorow. "Thank you again for this wonderful honor."

A long-time resident of New Rochelle, E.L. Doctorow has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, the Yale School of Drama, the University of Utah, the University of California at Irvine, and Princeton University. He holds the Lewis and Loretta Glucksman chair in English and American Letters at New York University.

His novels include The Book of Daniel; World's Fair, winner of the 1986 National Book Award; Billy Bathgate, winner of the PEN/Faulkner prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the William Dean Howells medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1990; The Waterworks; City of God; The March, which received the 2006 PEN/Faulkner Award, the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist; Homer and Langley, 2009; and his latest novel, Andrew's Brain, to be published January.

The ceremony took place before the 2 p.m. performance of Ragtime, which was followed by a reception to meet the actors in Mooney Center Lounge. The production ran from November 15 to 24.

"This show couldn't be more perfect for us in 2013," says director Laurie Peterson Castaldo. "Along with the city's celebration, our dramatic society, CNR Drama, was established in 1906, the year in which the play first takes place."  More importantly, she added, "as a college, this is a teaching moment. Ragtime reminds us of how we got to where we are."

The artistic team included music director Kurt Kelley, choreographer Juan Borona, scenic designer Raffaele A. Castaldo, costume designer Brooke Cohen and lighting designer Cecilia Durbin. A cast of 36 was drawn from New York City and environs as well as The College of New Rochelle community, and featured Erich McMillan-McCall as Coalhouse Walker Jr., Hanna Burke as Mother, and David Gautschy as Tateh.