In early 2008, the University of Tennessee Libraries purchased a significant collection of materials relating to writer James Agee, a Knoxville native. Agee is best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiographical novel, A Death in the Family, and as screenwriter for the movie The African Queen.
The Agee materials were originally given to the UT Special Collections Library as a deposit in 2005 by Paul Sprecher, head of the James Agee Trust, and his wife Deedee, Agee’s oldest daughter. The UT Libraries and the Department of English raised funds for the permanent acquisition of the collection.
The collection contains a wealth of correspondence to and from Agee, drafts of various manuscripts, screenplay material, and more. The scholarly value of the UT Libraries’ Agee collection is undeniable: “The recent acquisition of James Agee materials, particularly the entire archives of the James Agee Trust, has placed the Special Collections Library at the University of Tennessee in the enviable position of housing more of these materials than any other research library,” UT English Professor Michael A. Lofaro said.
Lofaro utilized parts of the collection while editing A Death in the Family: A Restoration of the Author’s Text. Agee died in 1955 before finishing A Death in the Family, and his friend David McDowell edited the 1957 edition. McDowell made extensive revisions to Agee’s narrative and added the novel’s memorable opening passage: “We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville, Tennessee in the time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child.” In Lofaro’s reconstruction, published in 2007, the novel has been revised to reflect the original text of Agee’s masterpiece.
The Agee materials, with some restrictions, are available for viewing at the Special Collections Library at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.