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In 1939, James Agee was working for Fortune magazine. Commissioned to write an article on Brooklyn for a special issue on New York, Agee moved to the Flatbush neighborhood for two months, later producing "Southeast of the Island: Travel Notes". As had earlier happened with the essay that was to become his classic portrait of southern farmers, "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men", Fortune declined to publish, and the essay remained unpublished until its 1968 Esquire appearance under the title "Brooklyn Is". In the words of Brooklyn-born novelist Jonathan Lethem, who provides the introduction to the essay in this volume, "the narrative rises up on the swirling imaged-junked cone of Agee's prophetic style to see the borough and its people whole".
A re-discovered masterpiece of reporting by a literary icon and a celebrated photographerIn 1941, James Agee and Walker Evans published Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a 400-page prose symphony about three tenant farming families in Hale County, Alabama, at the height of the Great Depression. The book shattered journalistic and literary conventions. Critic Lionel Trilling called it the "most realistic and most important moral effort of our American generation." The origins of Agee and Evans's famous collaboration date back to an assignment for Fortune magazine, which sent them to Alabama in the summer of 1936 to report a story that was never published. Some have assumed that Fortune's editors shelved the story because of the unconventional style that marked Famous Men, and for years the original report was presumed lost. But fifty years after Agee's death, a trove of his manuscripts turned out to include a typescript labeled "Cotton Tenants." Once examined, the pages made it clear that Agee had in fact written a masterly, 30,000-word report for Fortune. Published here for the first time, and accompanied by thirty of Walker Evans's historic photos, Cotton Tenants is an eloquent report of three families struggling through desperate times. Indeed, Agee's dispatch remains relevant as one of the most honest explorations of poverty in America ever attempted and as a foundational document of long-form reporting. As the novelist Adam Haslett writes in an introduction, it is "a poet's brief for the prosecution of economic and social injustice."
Published in 1957, two years after its author's death at the age of forty-five, A Death in the Family remains a near-perfect work of art, an autobiographical novel that contains one of the most evocative depictions of loss and grief ever written. <P><P> As Jay Follet hurries back to his home in Knoxville, Tennessee, he is killed in a car accident-a tragedy that destroys not only a life, but also the domestic happiness and contentment of a young family. <P> A novel of great courage, lyric force, and powerful emotion, A Death in the Family is a masterpiece of American literature.
Forty years after its original publication, James Agee's last novel seems, more than ever, an American classic. For in his lyrical, sorrowful account of a man's death and its impact on his family, Agee painstakingly created a small world of domestic happiness and then showed how quickly and casually it could be destroyed. On a sultry summer night in 1915, Jay Follet leaves his house in Knoxville, Tennessee, to tend to his father, whom he believes is dying. The summons turns out to be a false alarm, but on his way back to his family, Jay has a car accident and is killed instantly. Dancing back and forth in time and braiding the viewpoints of Jay's wife, brother, and young son, Rufus, Agee creates an overwhelmingly powerful novel of innocence, tenderness, and loss that should be read aloud for the sheer music of its prose."An utterly individual and original book...one of the most deeply worked out expressions of human feeling that I have ever read."--Alfred Kazin, New York Times Book Review"It is, in the full sense, poetry....The language of the book, at once luminous and discreet...remains in the mind."--New Republic"People I know who read A Death in the Family forty years ago still talk about it. So do I. It is a great book, and I'm happy to see it done anew."--Andre Dubus, author of Dancing After Hours and Meditations From A Moveable Chair
In the summer of 1936, James Agee and Walker Evans set out on assignment for Fortune magazine to explore the daily lives of sharecroppers in the South. Their journey would prove an extraordinary collaboration and a watershed literary event when in 1941 LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS MEN was first published to enormous critical acclaim. This unsparing record of place, of the people who shaped the land, and of the rhythm of their lives was called intensely moving and unrelentingly honest, and is "renowned for its fusion of social conscience and artistic radicality" (New York Times). Today it stands as a poetic tract of its time, recognized by the New York Public Library as one of the most influential books of the twentieth century. With an elegant new design as well as a sixty-four-page photographic prologue of Evans's classic images, reproduced from archival negatives, this sixtieth anniversary edition reintroduces the legendary author and photographer to a new generation.
"I'll croak before I write ads or sell bonds--or do anything except write."James Agee's father died when he was just six years old, a loss immortalized in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Death in the Family. Three years later, Agee's mother moved the mourning family from Knoxville, Tennessee, to the campus of St. Andrew's, an Episcopal boarding school near Sewanee. There, Agee met Father James Harold Flye, who would become his history teacher. Though Agee was just ten, the two struck up an unlikely and enduring friendship, traveling Europe by bicycle and exchanging letters for thirty years, from Agee's admission to Exeter Academy to his death at forty-five. The intimate letters, collected by Father Flye after Agee's death, form the most intimate portrait of Agee available, a starkly revealing account of the internal and external life of a tortured twentieth-century genius. Agee candidly shares his struggles with depression, professional failure, and a tumultuous personal life that included three wives and four children. First published in 1962, Letters of James Agee to Father Flye followed the rediscovery of Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and the posthumous publication of A Death in the Family, which won the 1958 Pulitzer Prize and became a hit Broadway play and film. The collection sold prolifically throughout the 1960s and '70s in mass-market editions as a new generation of readers discovered the deep talents of the writer Dwight Macdonald called "the most broadly gifted writer of our American generation."From the Trade Paperback edition.
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