James Agee and Walker Evans, Cotton Tenants: Three Families

Edited by John Summers
MIT Press, 2014.

“Open it and you are transported to ‘a brief account of what happens to human life,’ specifically the lives of three impoverished tenant farmers—Floyd Burroughs, Bud Fields, and Frank Tingle—and their families, captured in Agee’s honest, unflinching, and brilliant prose.”
Publisher’s Weekly (Starred Review)

“Summers’ discovery calls into question the long-held assumption that Fortune rejected Agee’s Alabama travelogue because of the article’s unrelenting experimentation. The new book is a more accessible take on Agee’s Alabama trip, offering a sublime showcase for his frequently masterful prose style.”
Christian Science Monitor

“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.”

“Reading Cotton Tenants: Three Families all the way through without taking Let Us Now Praise Famous Men down from the shelf for cross-reference may be possible, but I couldn’t do it. Each book makes you curious about the other and acts as the other’s gloss.”
New York Review of Books

“It is a pleasure to report that Agee’s work is entirely deserving of our praise. The stark, haunting photographs by Walker Evans, some of which had never been published, embody what critic Hilton Kramer called ‘the moral and aesthetic texture’ of the era. Cotton Tenants demonstrates the pleasure to be found, as Agee writes in these pages, when someone does ‘the work he cares most to do and is best capable of doing.’”
Washington Post