Agee: Selected Literary Documents

Agee: Selected Literary Documents

Agee: Selected Literary Documents

Agee: Selected Literary Documents

Synopsis

This volume provides the significant materials which seem of most importance for understanding James Agee's progression from an ambitious beginner to an accomplished writer who could, as he once wrote, "turn on the valve like a water faucet and write." This selection of documents spans over twenty-five years in Agee's career and demonstrates his movement as a writer who first mastered conventional prose and then went on to develop distinctive methods of writing based on an intensely felt awareness of the need to observe and "honor" reality.

Excerpt

Items in this collection of literary documents have been selected to represent James Agee's many kinds of writing. They range from his earliest moments of aspiration to the late 1940s when, as mature writer, he had demonstrated he could produce literary work within a wide variety of modes. This selection of documents spans over twenty-five years in Agee's career and demonstrates his movement as a writer who first mastered conventional prose, as well as dramatic and poetic forms, and then went on to develop distinctive methods of writing based on an intensely felt awareness of the need to observe and "honor" reality, a task which he felt was especially difficult during the final years of his life even though he had achieved considerable success as a professional writer.

An acquaintance of Agee's remarked to me in 1970 that whenever Agee was asked to designate his profession he would never answer "poet," or "novelist," or "journalist," or "critic," or "screen-play writer"--all of which he was. Instead, Agee simply replied that he was a "writer." Such simplicity says much about him as a person, and it also indicates how he went about his job as writer throughout a very productive, yet diverse career. Agee's varied production is, however, more of a piece than some commentators have suspected because always informing his precise style are strong moral convictions and his concern with accuracy of observation. His definite moral concern (reflected in the preciseness of observation) informs all the published work, and it is such a concern which unites all of these ungathered pieces, too.

This volume consists of some early, some unsigned, and even some unfinished documents; yet it probably is true that as much, or more, energy and enthusiasm went into these diverse writings as went into the extremely revealing letters which Agee . . .

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