Cotton Tenants: Three Families

Author(s): James Agee


In 1941, James Agee and Walker Evans published Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (Penguin Classics, 2006). It was a book which shattered journalistic and literary conventions. Cotton Tenats is an indispensable companion piece. The history of this new volume can be traced back to an assignment for Fortune magazine, which sent Agee and Evans to Alabama in the summer of 1936 and formed the basis for Famous Men. A recent re-examination of Fortune's archives showed that the report was far larger than previously thought - it is this material that forms the basis of Cotton Tenants.


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"A masterpiece of the magazine reporter's art. It is lucid, evocative, empathetic, deeply reported, consistently surprising, plainly argued, and illuminated, page after page, with poetic leaps of transcendent clarity."--"Fortune" "Agee squabbled with his editors over what he felt was the exploitation and trivialization of destitute American families.... What readers are about to discover now is what all the fighting was about." --"The New York Times" ""Cotton Tenants" reads with the spare and measured beauty of a writer who knows that under the social circumstances he can only allow himself so much. It is a deeply moving work..."Cotton Tenants" is fresh and painful reading." --"The Awl " "That's the first thing to be said about this essay: "Fortune" was crazy not to run it. It was a failure of nerve, and a lost chance at running one of the great magazine pieces from that era."--John Jeremiah Sullivan, "Bookforum" "An all-in, embracive rendering, panoramic as Brueghel while typecasting like Ben Shahn . . . Agee may be our foundational maximalist, the progenitor of Norman Mailer, Thomas Pynchon, and David Foster Wallace."--"The Los Angeles Review of Books" "A paragon of lyrical realism, the book is a legend. . .Agee writes with clinical, angry precision." --"The Boston Globe" "Agee's discerning eye, crushing bluntness, and forward-falling prose poetry urge along before dunking readers' senses, again and again, into the families' way of life. Disdainful of sentiment and melodrama, Agee shows no bias, revealing his subjects and skewering both oppressors and supposed reformers." --"Booklist" Praise for James Agee and "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men " "A book of wonders--an untamable American classic in the same line as "Leaves of Grass "and "Moby-Dick."" --David Denby, "The New Yorker"""Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" is . . . a classic work, an exercise in pure, declarative humanism. It will read true forever." --David Simon, creator of "The Wire" "The most copiously talented writer of my generation." --Dwight Macdonald "The most realistic and most important moral effort of our American generation." --Lionel Trilling "The most remarkable regular event in American journalism today." --W. H. Auden "From the Hardcover edition."

JAMES AGEE(1909-55) was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and was hired as a staff writer at "Fortune" in 1932. Two years later, his collection of poetry, "Permit Me Voyage," won the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition. His book about Alabama tenant farmers during the Great Depression, "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men," appeared in 1941. Agee was later renowned for his film criticism, which appeared regularly in "The Nation" and "Time," and for co-writing the screenplays for "The African Queen" and "The Night of the Hunter." He died two years before his major work of fiction, "A Death in the Family," was published and won the Pulitzer Prize. Photographer WALKER EVANS (1903-75)was on loan from the Resettlement Administration when he began collaborating with James Agee. He joined the staff of "Time "in 1945 and shortly afterward became an editor at "Fortune," where he stayed for the next two decades. In 1964, he became a professor at the Yale University School of Art, teaching until his death in 1975. ADAM HASLETT (introduction) is the author of "Union Atlantic" and "You Are Not a Stranger Here." JOHN SUMMERS (editor) is the editor in chief of "The Baffler."

General Fields

  • : 9781612193984
  • : Melville House Publishing
  • : Melville House Publishing
  • : September 2014
  • : 191mm X 140mm X 13mm
  • : United States
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : 976.1062
  • : Paperback
  • : James Agee
  • : illustrations (black and white)
  • : 224