Agee, James, 1909-1955

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1909-11-27
Death 1955-05-16
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

American poet, screenwriter, novelist.

From the description of James Agee Collection, 1928-1969. (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (HRC); University of Texas at Austin). WorldCat record id: 122385744

James Agee was an American novelist, poet, playwright, and journalist.

From the description of James Agee collection of papers, 1933-[1952]. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122430943

From the guide to the James Agee collection of papers, 1933-[1952, (The New York Public Library. Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature.)

American author, playwright, critic.

From the description of Manuscripts of James Agee, ca. 1930. (University of Virginia). WorldCat record id: 32959655

Epithet: writer

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000758.0x000160

James Agee was an American author. Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, he attended Harvard, where he wrote both poetry and prose. After graduation he took a job with Fortune magazine, wrote book and movie reviews, and published poetry and several books, including Let us now praise famous men. After leaving Fortune, he collaborated on the screenplays for The African Queen and Night of the Hunter, and published several novels before his death. He was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his unfinished autobiographical novel, A death in the family.

From the description of James Agee review of the movie, Wilson, circa 1944. (Pennsylvania State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 58726283

James Rufus Agee was born on November 17, 1909, in Knoxville, Tennessee, the first of two children. His father, Hugh James Agee, was from rugged farming stock in the mountainous backwoods of Tennessee while Laura Tyler, his mother, had a more educated and artistic background. Her mother, Agee's grandmother, was among the first women to graduate from the University of Michigan. Throughout his life Agee was very aware of the contradictions of this twofold heritage. His mother was a devout Episcopalian and sheltered Agee whereas his father introduced adventure and pleasures such as going to the movies and taking his son to the pubs afterward. As a result, Agee was both timid and daring as a child. The death of Agee's father in an automobile accident in May 1916 was a major turning point in his life.

After vacationing near Sewanee, Tennessee, in the summer of 1918, Agee's mother decided to relocate there and enrolled her son at Saint Andrew's, an Episcopalian boarding school, which he attended from 1919-1924. Her reasoning was that it would allow him to be more in the company of men and would provide the religious training and education she felt was important. It had the effect, however, of causing Agee to feel not only cut off from the companionship of his father, but now from his mother as well. It was at Saint Andrew's that Agee formed the close ties with Father James Herold Flye that were to last a lifetime. Agee attended Knoxville High School for the 1924-25 school year and after a trip to Europe with Father Flye in the summer of 1925, he enrolled at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, where his interest in writing first began. Among his writings for the Exeter Monthly were twelve short stories, nine poems, several articles and reviews, and four plays.

Agee attended Harvard from 1928 to 1932 where he became increasingly committed to a literary career. He began to write poems, short stories, and articles for the Harvard Lampoon, the Crimson, and the Harvard Advocate. He first joined the editorial board in 1919 as an associate editor of the Advocate, and by 1921, became editor-in-chief. His parody of Time in the March 1921 issue of the Advocate was highly acclaimed. In fact, it was this article on Time which attracted Henry Luce, and resulted in an offer to write for Fortune. He accepted, thinking his journalistic career would be brief, but it lasted for more than fifteen years. Agee was constantly in despair that he may have sacrificed his own creative efforts for the demands a journalistic style imposed. However, his book of poetry, Permit Me Voyage, was published in 1934 as part of the Yale Series of Younger Poets.

In 1936, on assignment for Fortune, Agee and photographer Walker Evans went to Alabama to do a story on tenant farmers. By the time the project was finished three years later Agee had enough material for a book, which was published in 1941 as Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Considered a failure at that time, it is now generally considered an original masterpiece. While working on Famous Men, Agee began reviewing books for Time in 1938, which soon expanded to films, and in 1941 he began a weekly column on film for The Nation, both projects ending in 1948. His most well known piece of criticism was Comedy's Greatest Era, published in 1949 in Life magazine, in which Agee extolled the era of silent movies. After 1948 Agee wrote principally film scripts and fiction. He wrote several screenplays and one full-length original script, Noa-Noa, based upon the journals of Paul Gauguin, which was never produced. Most well known is his work on The African Queen, which he wrote in collaboration with John Huston.

Agee's autobiographical novel, The Morning Watch (1951), is a tale about a young boy's experiences on a Good Friday morning while attending a boarding school, reminiscent of his own Good Friday activities. In A Death in the Family (1957), also autobiographical, Agee was finally able to write about the experience of a father's death and the reactions of various family members. Agee suffered a series of heart attacks beginning in 1951 and did not complete the novel for publication before his death. He began work on the screenplay, A Tanglewood Story, in 1954 but was unable to finish it, and several other projects he had begun, before his death from a heart attack on May 16, 1955. He was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1957 for A Death in the Family.

From the guide to the James Agee Collection TXRC98-A10., 1928-1969, (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin)

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Subjects:

  • Moving pictures
  • Authors
  • American poetry--20th century
  • Authors, American--20th century
  • Motion pictures
  • Male authors, American--20th century--Manuscripts
  • Novelists, American--20th century
  • Publishers and Publishing
  • Editors--20th century--Correspondence
  • Poets, American--20th century--Correspondence

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