Cotton Tenants

Cotton Tenants

In the summer of 1936, James Agee set out with photographer Walker Evans on assignment for Fortune magazine. Their mission was to explore the plight of sharecroppers during the height of the Great Depression. The journey fostered an extraordinary collaboration and a watershed literary event when the resulting report was turned into a book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, published in 1941.

Critics and biographers have assumed that Fortune editors killed the original article, and for years the essay was presumed lost to history.

But in 2010 a manuscript of the original Fortune dispatch was discovered among papers removed from Agee’s apartment during the 1950s. And, despite the legend that had developed around the article, scholars found a masterful 30,000-word report, a refinement of the multi-part investigations that Agee had regularly filed for Fortune.

Published here for the first time, Agee’s original dispatch --- accompanied by 25 of Walker Evans’ historic photos --- is an unsparing record of place and of three families who worked the land at a desperate time. It remains relevant today as one the most honest explorations of poverty in America ever attempted, and as one of the most ambitious and poetic pieces of magazine writing ever attempted.

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