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James Agee (1909-1955)
Chronology of his Life and Work

See also: Agee News

"A writer first and foremost— a born, sovereign prince of the English language— James Agee was also a prodigal and unself-preserving man, who imparted his extraordinary gifts to many forms, from verse to novels, film scripts to book reviews, friendship to marriage; who at thirty-two published a 450-page prose lyric called Let Us Now Praise Famous Men which is at the same time one of the most vulnerable perversities and surest glories of American literature; and who, at forty-five, died leaving a new novel on his desk, a film script in progress, commitals as a man and a poet on every side."

Robert Phelps
Excerpt from Introduction to 1st Edition of
Letters of James Agee to Father Flye

1909 November 27
James Rufus Agee born in Knoxville, Tennessee.
1916 May 18
Agee's father, Hugh James Agee, killed in auto accident.
1919 Autumn
Enters Saint Andrew's, a boarding school for boys; meets Father Flye and his wife, who lived on school grounds.
1924 Agee's mother marries Father Erskind Wright, bursar at St. Andrew's; they move to Rockland, Maine.
1925 Summer
Visits France and England with Father Flye.

Enters Phillips-Exeter Academy, Exeter, New Hamphire.

Corresponds with Dwight Macdonald

1927 Elected Editor of Exeter Monthly and President of the Lantern Club (literary society).
1928 Autumn
Enters Harvard University; Robert Saudek is his roommate.
1929 Summer
Works in Nebraska and Kansas wheatfields
1930 Robert Fitzgerald is his classmate in Robert Hillyer’s and I.A. Richards’ classes.
1931 Agee is president of Harvard Advocate.
1932 Spring
Graduates from Harvard and as a result of a parody issue of Time and of the efforts of Dwight Macdonald, is engaged as a cub reporter, then as a regular staff writer for Fortune in Chrysler Building.
1933 January 28
Marries Olivia Saunders
1934 October
Permit Me Voyage published in Yale Series of Younger Poets, with foreword by Archibald MacLeish.
1935 November to May, 1936
Leave of absence from Fortune; lives and writes in Anna Maria, Florida.
1936 Spring
Attends David McDowell’s commencement at Saint Andrew’s while visiting Father Flye.

Spends eight weeks with Walker Evans in Alabama, interviewing and photographing tenant families for a series of Fortune articles.

1938 Spring
Moves to 27 Second Street, Frenchtown, New Jersey. Marries Alma Mailman.
1939 Summer
Delievers manuscript of Three Tenant Families to Harper’s.

Begins reviewing books for Time with Whittaker Chambers.

Robert Fitzgerald works with Agee at Time.

1939 Moves to Saint James Place, Brooklyn, New York.
1940 March 20
First son, Joel, born.
1941 Autumn
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men published by Houghton Mifflin.

Begins reviewing films for Time.

Moves to Bleecker Street.

1942 December, 1942, to September, 1948
Writes signed column on films for The Nation.
1945 In the Street, a short, lyrical documentary film, directed and photographed by Helen Levitt, Janice Loeb, James Agee.

Begins writing special feature stories for Time.
Marries Mia Fritsch.

1946 November 7
First Daughter, Julia Teresa, is born.
1948 Leaves Time. Writes, under contract to Huntington Hartford, film scripts based on "The Blue Hotel" and "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky" by Stephen Crane.

Writes narration for Helen Levitt’s film The Quiet One.

World Premier of Knoxville Summer of 1915 for soprano and orchestra, music by Samuel Barber, words by Agee, with Elenor Steber singing.

1949 September 3
"Comedy’s Greatest Era," a study of silent film comedians, published in Life.
1950 May 15
His second daughter, Andrea Maria, born.

Goes to California, to work with John Huston on the script for The African Queen, based on a novel by C.S. Forester.

1951 January
Has first heart attacks, in California.

The Morning Watch published by Houghton Mifflin.

1952 Writes script on the life of Lincoln, commissioned by the Ford Foundation for Omnibus.

"A Mother’s Tale" published in Harpers’s Bazaar.

1953 Writes script for Noa Noa, based on Paul Gauguin’s diary.
1954 Writes script for The Night of the Hunter, based on the novel by Davis Grubb.

Father Flye leaves St. Andrew’s School after the death of his wife.

September 6
His second son, John Alexander, born.

1955 May 16
Dies of a heart attack while riding in a taxicab in New York City.

Father Flye comes from Wichita to conduct funeral service; Agee is buried in Hillsdale on a farm still owned by the Agee family.

1957 A Death in the Family is published posthumously by McDowell- Oblensky, edited by David McDowell.
1958 A Death in the Family wins the Pulitzer Prize.

Agee on Film published by McDowell-Oblensky.

1959 Father Flye moves to New York City.
1960 Agee on Film, Volume II, published by McDowell-Oblensky, with foreword by John Huston.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men reprinted by Houghton Mifflin, with new preface by Walker Evans.

All the Way Home, stage adaptation of A Death in the Family, opens and wins Pulitzer Prize and Drama Critics Award.

1961 Letters of James Agee to Father Flye published.
1963 All the Way Home, screen adaptation of the play and novel appears.
1965 A Way of Seeing, photographs of Harlem by Helen Levitt, with an essay by James Agee, published by Viking.
1966 Agee, by Peter Ohlin, first of four books about Agee, published by McDowell-Oblensky.

Agee’s mother dies.

1967 Fall
Film Heritage published special Agee issue.
1968 The Collected Poems of James Agee, edited with an introduction by Robert Fitzgerald, published by Houghton Mifflin.
1969 The Collected Short Prose of James Agee, with "Memoir" by Robert Fitzgerald, the best biographical piece yet published on James Agee, published by Houghton Mifflin.
1971 James Agee: A Portrait released by Caedmon records, with Agee speaking a "letter to a friend" and reading from his work (1953), and Father Flye reminiscing and reading from Agee’s work.
1972 Spring
Harvard Advocate pubished commemorative issue on James Agee.

Dedication of Agee Memorial Library at St. Andrew’s School in Tennessee.

1980 AGEE, a feature documentary film on the life and work of James Agee premiered at the Bijou Theatre in Knoxville, Tennessee.
1981 AGEE is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary; wins Blue Ribbon at American Film Festival.
1992 January
To Render a Life, a feature film documentary based on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men premiered at the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies. Nominated for Documentary of the Year by the International Documentary Association.
1999 Let Us Now Praise Famous Men placed among the top works of literature in the 20th Century by both the New York Public Library and the NYU School of Journalism selection committees.
2000 The first comprehensive biography of James Agee nearing completion; written by Erik Wensberg of New York City.

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