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Cotton Tenants

Three Families

By , (Editor), Adam Haslett (Contributor), Walker Evans (Photographer)

eBook published by Melville House (Melville House)

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About This Book
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 four-hundred-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 Evan'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 Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and for years the original report was 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.”

Co-Published with The Baffler magazine
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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 four-hundred-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 Evan'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 Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and for years the original report was 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.”

Co-Published with The Baffler magazine
Product Details
eBook
Published: June 4, 2013
Publisher: Melville House
Imprint: Melville House
ISBN: 9781612192130
Other books byJames Agee
  • A Death in the Family

    A Death in the Family
    On a summer night in 1915, Jay Follet, returning to his family, is killed instantly in a car accident. Dancing back and forth in time and braiding the viewpoints of Jay's wife, brother, and young son, Agee creates a powerful novel of innocence, tenderness, and loss.

    Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

    Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
    A landmark work of American photojournalism “renowned for its fusion of social conscience and artistic radicality” (New York Times)   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 the rhythm of their lives, is intensely moving and unrelentingly honest, and today—recognized by the New York Public Library as one of the most influential books of the twentieth century—it stands as a poetic tract of its time. With an elegant new design as well as a sixty-four-page photographic prologue featuring archival reproductions of Evans's classic images, this historic edition offers readers a window into a remarkable slice of American history.

    A Death in the Family

    A Death in the Family
    On a summer night in 1915, Jay Follet, returning to his family, is killed instantly in a car accident. Dancing back and forth in time and braiding the viewpoints of Jay's wife, brother, and young son, Agee creates a powerful novel of innocence, tenderness, and loss.

    Letters of James Agee to Father Flye

    Letters of James Agee to Father Flye

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