james agee lives


“In 1936, Fortune magazine sent the young writer James Agee to rural Alabama to pry intimately into the lives of an undefended and appallingly damaged group of human beings, an ignorant and helpless rural family, for the purpose of parading the nakedness, disadvantage and humiliation of these lives before another group of human beings, in the name of science, of “honest journalism” (whatever that paradox may mean), of humanity, of social fearlessness, for money and for a reputation for crusading and unbias which, when skillfully enough qualified , is exchangeable at any bank for money . . . .”

The sentence, which contains eight more lines of caustic self-questioning, gives a good idea of why Agee’s magazine article and subsequent book were rejected by the editors who had contracted for them. Prefaced by more than sixty black-and-white photographs of chastening starkness by Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Agee’s study of three white sharecropping families, was published in 1941 and sold 600 copies. Reprinted in 1960, it came to be heralded as an ancestor of the New Journalism of Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe.

more from the TLS here.