Thursday, June 06, 2013

The Origins of 'Let Us Now Praise Famous Men' to Be Published

In 1936 Fortune magazine’s editors assigned a relatively unknown and disgruntled staff writer named James Agee to travel to Alabama for the summer and chronicle the lives of sharecroppers. The article was never published. The book, with photographs by Walker Evans, was, as Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

Now, the original article will be published as a book as well.

From a piece in the New York Times...

What readers have known for decades is that Agee used his reporting material to create his 1941 book, “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” a literary description of abject poverty in the South, accompanied by starkly haunting Walker Evans photographs. The original magazine article was never published, as Agee squabbled with his editors over what he felt was the exploitation and trivialization of destitute American families. In the early pages of “Famous Men,” he wrote that it was obscene for a commercial enterprise to “pry intimately into the lives of an undefended and appallingly damaged group of human beings.” What readers are about to discover now is what all the fighting was about. 

On Tuesday Melville House will publish Agee’s original, unprinted 30,000-word article in book form, under the title “Cotton Tenants: Three Families.” The publication gives Agee fans a glimpse of an early draft of what became a seminal work of American literature. 

“With the book, we have a much better map of him writing ‘Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,’ “ said John Summers, who edited “Cotton Tenants” and printed an excerpt from the article in a literary journal he edits, The Baffler.

No comments: