Jame’s Agee’s Masterwork

Written in 90 Minutes: Knoxville: Summer of 1915

David Paul Kirkpatrick

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Originally written in 1935 and published in 1938 in the Parisian Review, this piece became the classic prelude to his Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel published posthumously, A Death In The Family.

Time Magazine called James Agee’s prose-poem , Knoxville, Summer 1915, “the most ecstatic piece of writing ever composed about an American summer.”

According to Agee, this now legendary piece was written in an hour an a half. “ I was greatly interested in improvisatory writing, as against carefully composed, multiple-draft writing: i.e., with a kind of parallel to improvisation in jazz, to a certain kind of genuine lyric which I thought should be purely improvised… It took possibly an hour and a half; on revision, I stayed about 98 per cent faithful to my rule, for these “improvised” experiments, against any revision whatever,” said Agee.

The author died at the age of 45. An excerpt was set to music by Samuel Barber in 1947, and has become legend. However, for me, there is nothing more powerful than the purity of this in it’s entirety. If there is a better passage on summer, I have not yet come upon it. Of course, it’s not only about a summer but it’s just as importantly about identity, fatherhood, and the incredible power of being ….

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David Paul Kirkpatrick

Founder of Story Summit & MIT Center for Future Storytelling, Pres of Paramount Film Group, Production Chief of Disney Studios, optimist, author and teacher.