Librarian of Congress James H. Billington made the announcement Wednesday.
Billington said each of Doctorow's books is a "vivid canvas" filled with "color and drama." He likens Doctorow to Charles Dickens.
Doctorow says novelists live with self-doubt. He says the honor confers "a blessed moment of peace and resolution."
Works from his five-decade career include "Ragtime," ''World's Fair," ''Billy Bathgate," ''The March" and his current book, "Andrew's Brain."
The Bronx-born novelist majored in philosophy at Kenyon College in Ohio.
The award will be presented Aug. 30 in Washington.