Agee, James

born Nov. 27, 1909, Knoxville, Tenn., U.S.
died May 16, 1955, New York, N.Y.

U.S. poet and novelist.

Agee attended Harvard University. In the 1930s and '40s, film reviews for Time and The Nation made him a pioneer in serious film criticism. His lyrical Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), with photographs by Walker Evans, documents the daily lives of poverty-stricken Alabama sharecroppers. After 1948 Agee worked mainly as a screenwriter, notably on The African Queen (1951) and The Night of the Hunter (1955). He is best known for his autobiographical novel A Death in the Family (1957, Pulitzer Prize).

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▪ American author
born November 27, 1909, Knoxville, Tennessee, U.S.
died May 16, 1955, New York, New York

      American poet, novelist, and writer for and about motion pictures. One of the most influential American film critics in the 1930s and '40s, he applied rigorous intellectual and aesthetic standards to his reviews, which appeared anonymously in Time and signed in The Nation.

      Agee grew up in Tennessee's Cumberland Mountain area, attended Harvard University, and wrote for Fortune and Time after he graduated in 1932. Permit Me Voyage, a volume of poems, appeared in 1934. For a proposed article in Fortune, Agee and the photographer Walker Evans (Evans, Walker) lived for about six weeks among sharecroppers in Alabama in 1936. The article never appeared, but the material they gathered became a book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), illustrated by Evans and accompanied by lyrical prose in which Agee dealt with both the plight of the people and his subjective reaction to it.

      Although his film criticism is not well-known, Agee's lively intelligence and discerning wit make his reviews as pleasureable to read as any writing with more serious intent. Like the best critics, he wrote as a fellow viewer rather than as an insider with superior opinions. Among his enthusiasms were his deep appreciation for the artistry of older filmmakers such as Aleksandr Dovzhenko (Dovzhenko, Aleksandr), Jean Vigo (Vigo, Jean), and D.W. Griffith (Griffith, D W). Agee was exceptionally sentient on the films of John Huston (Huston, John), and most authorities believe that he single-handedly resurrected the silent comedies of actors such as Harold Lloyd (Lloyd, Harold) and Buster Keaton (Keaton, Buster). Of the latter he wrote:

He used this great, sad, motionless face to suggest various related things: a one-track mind near the track's end of pure insanity; mulish imperturbability under the wildest of circumstances; how dead a human being can get and still be alive; an awe-inspiring sort of patience and power to endure, proper to granite but uncanny in flesh and blood.

      His lucid, well-crafted prose was peppered with judicious and keen wit. Reviewing the musical You Were Meant for Me (1948), he wrote the single sentence “That's what you think.”

      From 1948 until his death, Agee worked mainly as a film scriptwriter, notably for The African Queen (1951) and The Night of the Hunter (1955). His novel A Death in the Family (1957), which is about the effect of a man's sudden death on his six-year-old son and the rest of his family, and his novella The Morning Watch (1951), on the religious experiences of a 12-year-old boy, are both autobiographical. A Death in the Family won a Pulitzer Prize, and it was adapted for the stage as All the Way Home (1960; filmed 1963). Agee's other works include Agee on Film (1958, reissued in 2000 with a new introduction by David Denby), collected reviews; Agee on Film II (1960, reissued 1969), consisting of five film scripts; and Letters to Father Flye (1962), a collection of his letters to a former teacher and lifelong friend. The Collected Short Prose of James Agee was published in 1968.

Additional Reading
Two biographies of James Agee are Laurence Bergreen, James Agee: A Life (1984); and David Madden and Jeffrey J. Folks (eds.), Remembering James Agee, 2nd ed. (1997). Among the critical studies are Alan Spiegel, James Agee and the Legend of Himself: A Critical Study (1998); James Lowe, The Creative Process of James Agee (1994); Michael A. Lofaro (ed.), James Agee: Reconsiderations (1992); and Kenneth Seib, James Agee: Promise and Fulfillment (1968).

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Universalium. 2010.

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  • Agee,James — A·gee (āʹjē), James. 1909 1955. American writer and critic who won a 1957 Pulitzer Prize for his novel A Death in the Family. * * * …   Universalium

  • Agee, James Rufus — (1909 1955)    A Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, journalist, and film critic, James Agee was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. Following his father’s death in a road accident, he was educated at several boarding schools before attending Harvard… …   Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era

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  • James — /jaymz/, n. 1. Also called James the Great. one of the 12 apostles, the son of Zebedee and brother of the apostle John. Matt. 4:21. 2. the person identified in Gal. 1:19 as a brother of Jesus: probably the author of the Epistle of St. James. 3.… …   Universalium

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  • James Agee — James Rufus Agee (* 27. November 1909 in Knoxville, Tennessee; † 16. Mai 1955 in New York) war ein US amerikanischer Dichter, Journalist, Sozialaktivist, Drehbuchautor und Filmkritiker. In den 1940er Jahren war er einer der einflussreichsten… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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