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Cotton Tenants : Three Families Paperback – 30 Sep 2014
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"A masterpiece of the magazine reporter's art. It is lucid, evocative, empathetic, deeply reported, consistently surprising, plainly argued, and illuminated, page after page, with poetic leaps of transcendent clarity."--"Fortune"
"Agee squabbled with his editors over what he felt was the exploitation and trivialization of destitute American families.... What readers are about to discover now is what all the fighting was about." --"The New York Times"
""Cotton Tenants" reads with the spare and measured beauty of a writer who knows that under the social circumstances he can only allow himself so much. It is a deeply moving work..."Cotton Tenants" is fresh and painful reading." --"The Awl "
"That's the first thing to be said about this essay: "Fortune" was crazy not to run it. It was a failure of nerve, and a lost chance at running one of the great magazine pieces from that era."--John Jeremiah Sullivan, "Bookforum"
"An all-in, embracive rendering, panoramic as Brueghel while typecasting like Ben Shahn . . . Agee may be our foundational maximalist, the progenitor of Norman Mailer, Thomas Pynchon, and David Foster Wallace."--"The Los Angeles Review of Books"
"A paragon of lyrical realism, the book is a legend. . .Agee writes with clinical, angry precision." --"The Boston Globe"
"Agee's discerning eye, crushing bluntness, and forward-falling prose poetry urge along before dunking readers' senses, again and again, into the families' way of life. Disdainful of sentiment and melodrama, Agee shows no bias, revealing his subjects and skewering both oppressors and supposed reformers." --"Booklist"
Praise for James Agee and "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men "
"A book of wonders--an untamable American classic in the same line as "Leaves of Grass "and "Moby-Dick."" --David Denby, "The New Yorker
""Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" is . . . a classic work, an exercise in pure, declarative humanism. It will read true forever." --David Simon, creator of "The Wire"
"The most copiously talented writer of my generation." --Dwight Macdonald
"The most realistic and most important moral effort of our American generation." --Lionel Trilling
"The most remarkable regular event in American journalism today." --W. H. Auden
"From the Hardcover edition."
"A masterpiece of the magazine reporter s art. It is lucid, evocative, empathetic, deeply reported, consistently surprising, plainly argued, and illuminated, page after page, with poetic leaps of transcendent clarity. Fortune
"Agee squabbled with his editors over what he felt was the exploitation and trivialization of destitute American families .What readers are about to discover now is what all the fighting was about. The New York Times
Cotton Tenantsreads with the spare and measured beauty of a writer who knows that under the social circumstances he can only allow himself so much. It is a deeply moving work Cotton Tenantsis fresh and painful reading. The Awl
"That s the first thing to be said about this essay: Fortunewas crazy not to run it. It was a failure of nerve, and a lost chance at running one of the great magazine pieces from that era. John Jeremiah Sullivan, Bookforum
"An all-in, embracive rendering, panoramic as Brueghel while typecasting like Ben Shahn . . .Agee may be our foundational maximalist, the progenitor of Norman Mailer, Thomas Pynchon, and David Foster Wallace. The Los Angeles Review of Books
"A paragon of lyrical realism, the book is a legend. . .Agee writes with clinical, angry precision. The Boston Globe
"Agee s discerning eye, crushing bluntness, and forward-falling prose poetry urge along before dunking readers senses, again and again, into the families way of life. Disdainful of sentiment and melodrama, Agee shows no bias, revealing his subjects and skewering both oppressors and supposed reformers. Booklist
Praise for James Agee and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
A book of wonders an untamable American classic in the same line as Leaves of Grass and Moby-Dick. David Denby, The New Yorker
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is . . . a classic work, an exercise in pure, declarative humanism.It will read true forever. David Simon, creator of The Wire
The most copiously talented writer of my generation. Dwight Macdonald
The most realistic and most important moral effort of our American generation. Lionel Trilling
The most remarkable regular event in American journalism today. W. H. Auden
From the Hardcover edition."
About the Author
JAMES AGEE (1909 55) was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and was hired as a staff writer at Fortune in 1932. Two years later, his collection of poetry, Permit Me Voyage, won the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition. His book about Alabama tenant farmers during the Great Depression, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, appeared in 1941. Agee was later renowned for his film criticism, which appeared regularly in The Nation and Time, and for co-writing the screenplays for The African Queen and The Night of the Hunter. He died two years before his major work of fiction, A Death in the Family, was published and won the Pulitzer Prize.
Photographer WALKER EVANS (1903 75) was on loan from the Resettlement Administration when he began collaborating with James Agee. He joined the staff of Time in 1945 and shortly afterward became an editor at Fortune, where he stayed for the next two decades. In 1964, he became a professor at the Yale University School of Art, teaching until his death in 1975.
ADAM HASLETT (introduction) is the author of Union Atlantic and You Are Not a Stranger Here.
JOHN SUMMERS (editor) is the editor in chief of The Baffler."
Top customer reviews
Cotton Tenants is the result of an assignment given to James Agee and photographer Walker Evans in 1936 by Fortune magazine to report on "cotton tenants" in the south- people who made their "living" by raising cotton on land owned by the landlord, and living in homes owned by the landlord. The report was never published though the well known book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (Penguin Modern Classics) is a product of the same trip to the south and the notes taken on the trip.
Cotton Tenants describes the daily lives of three families: their "business" arrangement with the landlord, their shelter, their education, their clothing, ... and more. In Adam Haslett's introductory statement entitled "A Poet's Brief", it is said that "much of the details of the families' daily lives is delivered in flat declarative statements", although the statement does go on to say that Cotton Tenants also often reaches "higher poetic register." Much of Cotton Tenants was indeed flat and declarative, but that is not to say it is lacking in interest. To me the value and interest of the Cotton Tenants is in the history it presents, and in the questions it can raise. Agee himself states in his own introduction that what he is writing about is "local specializations of the huge and the ancient"- a particular form of poverty, and any 'student' of the past who wants to understand the present, anyone interested in the economics and power structure in our society today will be interested in this book. Haslett titled his into "A Poet's Brief" because he views Cotton Tenants as "a poets brief for the prosecution of economic and social justice", and in it he says that "you don't have to look hard to see how our own credit system, administered not by small-time land lords but by banks, credit rating companies, and collections agencies has established an impersonal, financial capital variant of the debt trap that Agee described seventy six years ago."
In addition to the text, not to be overlooked are the Walker Evans photographs- only a handful of the many taken on the trip, which are separately published, but those that appear go well with the text.
The physical book itself is a nice size to hold and read - about 5 1/2 inches wide, 7 inches long, light weight but decent quality paper, a decent size print (NOT tiny) and easy to carry round.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The hard scrabble life these people had is extraordinary. They are completely trapped in a system that never rewards them enough to escape, but provides just almost enough to live on - with always the promise of a better next year. Mr Agee gives such a strong visual sense in his writing and the photographs leave you wanting to help these folks. It makes me mad, nearly 100 years later to see how we treated each other back then.
The families have their happy moments. However, the complete lack of health care and the hardships involved make them fleeting. While a very short book, it is powerful and takes you back to the time of the great depression with all the unflattering truths exposed.
This book is a must for those who really want to understand living in the south during the depression. I am so glad my Grandparents were able to pull away and start a new life for my Dad. I wonder how the descendants of those in the book made out...
WAlker Evans went on this assignment with James Agee and true to his style, provides very insightful pictures of the very simple and inadequate living conditions of each of these three families.
I highly recommend this book as it just went to print this year even though the intviews and pictures were taken in the 1930s.
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