A Death in the Family

      James Agee

A Death in the Family

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.

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    Cotton Tenants: Three Families

      James Agee

Cotton Tenants: Three Families

A re-discovered masterpiece of reporting by a literary icon and a celebrated photographer

In 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.”

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    A Death In The Family

      James Agee

A Death In The Family

THE TRUSTEES OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY IN THE CITY OF NEW YORK To all persons to whom these presents may come greeting be it known that JAMES AGEE has been awarded THE PULITZER PRIZE IN LETTERS FICTION for A DEATH IN THE FAMILY in accordance with the provisions of the statutes of the University governing such award. In witness whereof we have caused this certificate to be signed by the President of the University and our corporate seal to be hereto affixed in the City of New York on the fifth day of May in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and fifty eight. Grayson Kirk PRESIDENT James Agee’s novel A Death in the Family is a classic American story, chronicling just a few days in 1915 during which a husband and father is called out of town to be with his own father, who has had a heart attack, and while returning is killed in a car accident. Agee patterned the story closely after his own life, focusing on a boy who is the same age that he was when his father died. The narrative shifts from one perspective to another, including the young widow and her two children and her atheistic father and the dead man’s alcoholic brother, to name just a few, in an attempt to capture the ways in which one person’s loss immediately and powerfully affects everyone around. The book was published in 1957 by McDowell, Obolensky, two years after Agee’s death from heart failure at the age of 46, and was awarded the 1958 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Although Agee had worked on it for almost a decade, he had not produced a definitive final draft, and so his publishers had to put the book together in a way that they believed would make the most sense. They have indicated places where they added materials that come from outside of the flow of the story, such as the opening section “ Knoxville: Summer, 1915,” which was first published in the 1940s. Critics agree that the end product is a consistent novel, one of the most moving works ever written about one of the most traumatic experiences a child could ever face.
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    A Death in the Family

      James Agee

A Death in the Family

Review

"[James Agee's words] are so indelibly etched someplace inside of me that I couldn't reach to rub them out even if I wanted to. And I never want to."
-Steve Earle, from the Introduction

"The work of a writer whose power with English words can make you gasp."
-Alfred Kazin, "The 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."
-"The New Republic"

" Wonderfully alive."
-"The New Yorker"

From the Publisher

James Agee's Pulitzer Prize-winning A Death In The Family is the powerful, moving story of a universal human situation. It tells of a loving and closely-knit family--and of their great courage when tragedy changes senselessly and suddenly the lives of those who are left behind.

"Maturely and masterfully, Agee accomplished a book which touches one deeply and which no reader will forget." -- New York Herald Tribune Book Review

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