Reader's Encyclopedia

Agee, James (1909 - 1955)

American writer. Agee was raised in the Cumberland mountain region of Tennessee, which provided the setting for his two autobiographical novels and is the likely basis for his penetrating insights into the American poor. His first novel, The Morning Watch (1951), is the story of a young boy's struggle and failure to attain true contrition in church. The extent of Agee's actual religious torment is documented in the posthumously collected Letters to Father Flye (1962). Agee's only other novel, his masterwork, A Death in the Family (1957), was left unfinished at his death. The novel, which won a Pulitzer Prize, recounts with extraordinary sensitivity the impact of a man's death on the surviving members of his family. Hounded by financial problems, Agee channeled his creative energies into money-making ventures. His work as a film critic and scriptwriter is collected in the two volumes of Agee on Film (1958, 1960). Commissioned to write an article for Fortune magazine. Agee spent time with several Alabama sharecropping families. The result was not an article but the powerfully moving book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941; with photographs by Walker Evans). Collected Poems (1968) and Collected Short Prose (1969) are other examples of Agee's writing.

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