What is Let Us Now Praise Famous Men?


In the summer of 1936 Evans was given leave from his government job for a project not initiated by the FSA but in full accord with its program. Fortune, the magazine that would employ Evans for two decades, planned a story on the lives of sharecroppers in the South. The sharecroppers, who were obliged to turn over most of their crops as rent, were particularly hard hit by the Depression. They were one of the target groups for FSA projects; a report on their situation in such a renowned magazine seemed to merit support. Evans' leave was linked to the condition that the results of his work--the negatives--would be given to the FSA photographic archive.

Fortune commissioned the writer James Rufus Agee to write the text. Agee requested that Evans accompany him as photographer, and both set out for Alabama.
Both men became completely involved in the project; what was to be a brief journalistic essay never came to be. The venture assumed proportions no longer in accord with Fortune's intentions and resulted in the lengthy book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, the manuscript being completed by Agee in 1938. The book was published in 1941, yet the sharecroppers were no longer topical, partly due to the New Deal reforms and also because of the war.

With largely unenthusiastic reviews, the book was initially a flop. Not until the new edition in 1960 did it become the cult book of a generation searching for alternatives to the values of an aggressive consumer society. The growing cult around James Agee who died in 1955, also contributed to the late recognition of the book.

Quoted from Michael Brix's essay in Walker Evans America.

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