A friend and I were discussing her son's choice for a book report this semester and she asked me if I knew the book A Death in The Family. I told her that when I'd read it in the 1960s, I had loved it. I went on to tell her that I'd read it because of Dwight MacDonald, the writer, who was a seminal influence in my life, had been a friend of James Agee, the author. When I was a kid my father subscribed to Esquire magazine; I'm sure my brothers enjoyed the Vargas pinups, but I discovered the film critic Dwight MacDonald there. I loved movies but never realized that they could be considered an "art form" until reading MacDonald. I recall MacDonald's prefacing an article with the phrase, "As an intellectual..."; when I showed that to friends and to my teacher Miss Digman, I asked, incredulously, "Can you believe he's so conceited?" Miss Digman replied, "Well, no doubt he IS an intellectual; he also writes for The New Yorker." As she flipped through those pages of Esquire, she said, off-handedly, "It's no conceit; don't you consider yourself an intellectual?" I was taken aback at the very suggestion that I might think highly of myself.
By the time I learned of Agee, he was already dead. I read the masterpiece Let Us Now Praise Famous Men which was a collaboration between Agee and the photographer Walker Evans. I read Agee's film criticism because MacDonald had quoted it and when A Death In The Family was published it received the Pulitzer Prize posthumously. I read the book and when a movie version was made it was entitled All The Way Home and it starred Robert Preston and Jean Simmons. I was touched by the movie but as with many favored books, the films do not match the writing. I oftentimes wondered how Agee would have reviewed his book and the play and film adaptations.
I just climbed on my ladder to fetch my three Agee books from the top shelf of my library. I told my friend that I would read A Death In The Family again to see if it is as good as I remember. I just opened it and in the first paragraph I was enthralled and transported to Knoxville, 1915: "I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child"; "one or two juts apiece"; "gracefully fretted".
I'm in love with writing one more time! Oh, to be able to write like THAT!