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Cotton Tenants

Three Families

This book is available for download with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device, and with iTunes on your computer. Books can be read with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.


A re-discovered masterpiece of reporting by a literary icon and a celebrated photographer

In 1941, James Agee and Walker Evans published Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a 400-page prose symphony about three tenant farming families in Hale County, Alabama, at the height of the Great Depression. The book shattered journalistic and literary conventions. Critic Lionel Trilling called it the “most realistic and most important moral effort of our American generation.” 

The origins of Agee and Evans’s famous collaboration date back to an assignment for Fortune magazine, which sent them to Alabama in the summer of 1936 to report a story that was never published. Some have assumed that Fortune’s editors shelved the story because of the unconventional style that marked Famous Men, and for years the original report was presumed lost.

But fifty years after Agee’s death, a trove of his manuscripts turned out to include a typescript labeled “Cotton Tenants.” Once examined, the pages made it clear that Agee had in fact written a masterly, 30,000-word report for Fortune.

Published here for the first time, and accompanied by thirty of Walker Evans’s historic photos, Cotton Tenants is an eloquent report of three families struggling through desperate times. Indeed, Agee’s dispatch remains relevant as one of the most honest explorations of poverty in America ever attempted and as a foundational document of long-form reporting. As the novelist Adam Haslett writes in an introduction, it is “a poet’s brief for the prosecution of economic and social injustice.”

From Publishers Weekly

Jun 10, 2013 – Seven decades have passed since Agee (A Death in the Family) and Evans were commissioned by Fortune magazine to "report on working conditions of poor white farmers in the deep south." The report itself was never published, and the manuscript stayed forgotten until as late as 2003, when it was exhumed from Agee's Greenwich Village home by one of his daughters. It is a time capsule: 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. Readers familiar with Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men will relish what is more than "source material", and recognize, for example, many of Agee's description of the diet, shelter, and labor of an Alabama tenant family. To readers unfamiliar, this will be an unexpected pleasure. It is the minute detail of the work that brings Depression-era Alabama to life, including the colloquialisms, (Miss Mary's calling the babies "coons"), medicinal remedies (swampwillow bark for chills, cottonseed poultices for head pains, rattlesnake grease for rheumatism), and the leisure time "of people who work." Photos.

Customer Reviews

Important book marred by typos

This important book is marred by typos. I would like to know who is checking on those who are employed to do the job of copying out the text for the iBook format. It is rare that I don't find numerous typos these days when reading a book formatted for iBooks, but this particular book is so poorly copied out I am often wondering to myself if Agee was even that good of a writer. Which isn't the case at all. I am not even going to broach that subject. In fact the only reason I am writing this review is in the hopes the the publisher will pay better attention in the future to the product they are releasing to the public and that maybe they will even go back and fix this one.

Cotton Tenants
View In iTunes
  • $14.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: United States
  • Published: May 29, 2013
  • Publisher: Melville House
  • Seller: Penguin Random House LLC
  • Print Length: 224 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

Customer Ratings

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