INITIAL RESPONSE

Byline: Daniel Peres

If author E.L. Doctorow had to do it all over again, there would be no E.L. "I made the decision at an early age," he says of his choice to use initials in lieu of his name, Edgar Laurence. "I was modeling myself to be a writer. As you begin to assert yourself in this mode of discourse, you think about the writers you admire: D.H. Lawrence, T.S. Eliot and so on. I was E.L. Doctorow. I wouldn't do the same now."
In addition, he was hoping that the use of his initials would afford him a certain sense of anonymity.
"I thought it would bring me the added value of keeping something in reserve--an element of privacy," he adds. "And of course it doesn't work."
The author's namesake was Edgar Allan Poe, who, as Doctorow points out, often used E.A. Poe as a byline.
"He was an alcoholic with necrophiliac tendencies who died in a gutter in Baltimore," he says through a satisfied grin. "He's our greatest bad writer. He made a lot of mistakes in his fiction, but found, on the other hand, the shadow life of 19th-century democracy. He found phantasms and terrors."
The most awkward aspect of using his initials, Doctorow adds, is in introductions. Most don't know what to call him, he says, and he doesn't like "Mr. Doctorow."
"When you meet someone for the first time it seems odd to be introduced by your initials," he says, sipping coffee in a Greenwich Village cafe.
So it's expected he'll feel a bit awkward tonight when he's introduced at the 92nd Street Y. Doctorow is opening the Unterberg Poetry Center's 1994/95 season with a reading from his most recent novel, "The Waterworks." While he enjoys these readings, he finds them somewhat paradoxical.
"A person who spends most of his time alone in a room in silence finds himself in the position of a performer at a reading," he says.
After participating in hundreds of readings, Doctorow knows the formula for a successful recital. Or at least most of the time.
"I once ended up reading a rather strong and gamy passage from the first chapter of 'Billy Bathgate' to what turned out to be an audience of clerics. The passage was about Billy, as a young boy, running on the docks and jumping on tugboats, when he witnesses a ritual mob execution. The language is quite appropriate for the situation. That was a mistake," he remembers.
"I usually try to find one attentive face in the audience and read to that one person," he notes. "My eye quickly goes over the businessman whose wife dragged him along and is dozing after the first sentence."

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