James Agee in Context
New Literary, Visual, Cultural, and Historical Essays
It’s difficult to overestimate the impact of the many new works by James Agee uncovered and published in the last twenty years. These previously unknown primary works have, in turn, encouraged a parallel explosion of critical evaluation and reevaluation by scholars, to which James Agee in Context is the latest contribution.
This superb collection from well-known James Agee scholars features myriad approaches and contexts for understanding the author’s fiction, poetry, journalism, and screenwriting. The essays bring the reader from the streets of James Agee’s New York to travel with the author from Alabama to Hollywood to Havana. Contributors explore overlapping and sometimes unique subjects, themes, and accomplishments (or lack thereof) in Agee’s uncovered works and highlight the diversity of interest that Agee’s complete body of work inspires. The insightful scholarship on influence examines connections between Agee and Wright Morris, Helen Levitt, John Dos Passos, Ernest Hemingway, and Stephen Crane. Such juxtapositions serve to illustrate how Agee drew on literary influences as a young man, how he used his work as a journalist to craft fiction as he was about to turn thirty, and his influence upon others. The volume concludes with three poems and a short story by Agee, all previously unknown.
It seems astonishing that so much remains to be discovered about this protean author, his materials, and his circle. Yet, the recovery and analysis of neglected texts and information mined from newspapers and magazines proves the extent to which Agee kept his mind and his work, as he himself put it, “patiently concentrated upon the essential quietudes of the human soul.”
MICHAEL A. LOFARO is a professor emeritus of English at the University of Tennessee. He is the author or editor of seven volumes of scholarship related to James Agee and is the general editor emeritus of The Works of James Agee.