"A Death in the Family" is a novel by the American author James Agee. The novel was written by Agee as a semi-autobiographical piece in the late 1940's through early 1950's and was not quite finished when he died in 1955. It was published posthumously by his family two years later. In 1958, Agee was awarded the … [Read more...] about A Death in a Family
James Rufus Agee was born on November 27th, 1909 in Knoxville, Tennessee. When he was only six years old, his father was killed in a car accident while returning home from visiting his sick grandfather. Agee and his younger sister, Emma were educated in several different boarding schools for the rest of their childhoods. Agee's mother, Laura remarried in 1924 to Father Erskine Wright, and the two moved to Rockland, Maine.
Agee continued to live in Tennessee, attending Knoxville High School. He traveled to Europe at the age of 16 with his lifelong friend and mentor, an Episcopal priest, Father James Flye. Upon returning home, he was enrolled in a boarding school in New Hampshire. It was at this school that Agee began writing short stories, plays, and poems which he published in the school newspaper, the Monthly which he was the editor of.
Agee was admitted to Harvard University after high school and became editor of the Harvard Advocate. After graduating he was hired as a reporter and moved to New York City, where he wrote for such magazines as Fortune, Time and The Nation. During this time, he also met and married his first wife, Olivia Saunders in 1933. They later divorced and he married Alma Mailman in that same year. Alma gave birth to Agee's first child, a son named Joel.
During the Great Depression in the 1930's, Agee spent eight weeks living with sharecroppers in Alabama for an assignment which he later turned into a novel called, "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men." The novel was published in 1941 but did not see much success.
During the early 1940's, Agee also became a film critic for Time. Though he enjoyed this immensely, he quit in 1948 and became a freelance writer and began working on screenplays. Agee is one of the credited screenwriters for two of the biggest movies of the 1950's "The African Queen" (1951) and "The Night of the Hunter" (1955).
Agee divorced his second wife, Alma in 1941 and later remarried to his third and final wife, Mia Fritsch in 1946. The couple had two daughters. Throughout his life, Agee was a heavy drinker and smoker. Eventually, this led to his death when he suffered a heart attack in a taxi cab on May 16th, 1955. He was buried on his farm in Hillsdale, New York which is still owned by his family today.
Since Agee's untimely death, his literary reputation has expanded a great deal. His best-known work, "A Death in the Family" was published two years after his death in 1957 and won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction the next year. However, there is controversy surrounding the publication as it was said to have been heavily edited from the original manuscript by the publisher. Many of his other works have grown in reputation and are now considered classic novels.