James Agee

James Agee

About James Agee

James Agee (November 27, 1909 – May 16, 1955) was an American poet and novelist. He published his first collection of poetry in 1934, Permit Me Voyage, in the Yale Series of Younger Poets, followed in 1935 by Knoxville: Summer of 1915, a prose poem later set to music by Samuel Barber. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1958 for his autobiographical book A Death in the Family, published posthumously in 1957. Agee was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. His father died in a car accident when he was only six years old. From then on, he was sent to schools far from his home where he felt isolated and abandoned by his mother. He will complete his studies at Harvard University.
During the summer of 1936, Fortune magazine commissioned James Agee, accompanied by photographer Walker Evans, to report on the condition of white sharecroppers in southern Alabama. For six weeks in Hale County, Agee and Evans rub shoulders with three white families living in extreme poverty. The text that Agee offers to his sponsor, as soon as he returns to New York, is refused. It will eventually become a perfectly unclassifiable book, a cry of indignation and anger in favor of these victims of the Great Depression, accompanied by a portfolio of photographs by Evans, published in the United States in 1941 under the title Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families. This book will greatly mark the photographer William Christenberry, a native of the region treated in the book.
During his lifetime, Agee enjoyed only modest public recognition. Since his death, his literary reputation has grown. In 1957, his novel A Death in the Family (based on the events surrounding his father's death) was published posthumously and in 1958 won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. In 2007, Dr. Michael Lofaro published a restored edition of the novel using Agee's original manuscripts. Agee's work had been heavily edited before its original publication by publisher David McDowell. In 1942, he became a film critic for Time, sometimes also writing a few book reviews. In 1948, he left this job to become a freelance writer.
He died of a heart attack on May 16, 1955, in New York, in a taxi that was taking him to the doctor. He was 45 years old.

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