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And Their Children After Them: The Legacy of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: James Agee, Walker Evans, and the Rise and Fall of Cotton in the South Paperback – November 4, 2008

4.7 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

The collaborative effort of photographer Walker Evans and writer James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, portrayed the lives of three sharecropper families in the South during the Depression, giving witness to the tyranny of the tenant farming system that enslaved some nine million tenants in 1936. Their book was at once poetic, scathing, compelling, and tragic. Fifty years later, Maharidge and Williamson have revisited, photographed, and interviewed the surviving members and descendants of the Gudger, Ricketts, and Woods families shown in that book. There are so many lives in this saga that it is difficult to keep everyone straight, and the many stories of hardship caused by cotton and the struggle to leave it behind feel less like document than fiction. A fascinating work, nonetheless.
- Ann Copeland, Drew Univ. Lib., Madison, N.J.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

When he isn’t crossing the country talking to the people who live here, former newspaper reporter DALE MAHARIDGE has been a visiting professor of journalism at Columbia University and Stanford. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 1987–88. He lives in Northern California. MICHAEL WILLIAMSON is a photographer for the Washington Post who, in addition to the Pulitzer Prize he shares with Maharidge, won a second Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the war in Kosovo. His other honors include the World Press Photo and Nikon World Understanding Through Photography awards.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Seven Stories Press; 53419th edition (November 4, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1583226575
  • ISBN-13: 978-1583226575
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #798,418 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Unfortunately, the synopsis left out that this book won the Pulitzer for Non-fiction in 1991. Maharidge and Williamson followed the footsteps of James Agee who had profiled sharecroppers during the Depression. They found their decendants, and showed that while cotton and sharecropping had died, rural poverty for these families had been passed down to new generations. The front section of the book is a series of photographs by Williamson, and they are tremendous. Moreover, in their reporting, they filled a gap left by Agee by finding a black family of sharecroppers to add to the others profiled. This is a tremendous book. It works on multiple levels, giving both the sweep of Southern social and economic history and bringing it down to individuals. Beyond that, the book is a metaphor for our own time. "If we understand the death of cotton," Maharidge writes in this book, "we understand many things about modern America." This is a tremendous work, highly readable and moving. The recognition these two craftsmen received for it is well-deserved
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Format: Hardcover
First introduced to "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" by James Agee and Walker Evans through a PBS Documentary, which inspired a dash to the library to read the book iteself, it wasn't until years later I went back to the library to see if anyone had ever followed up on the story. Confronted with the then new computerized "card catalog" system, I wondered how I might search for any related writings when it dawned on me what a perfect title would naturally evolve from the verse the first book title was taken: ..And Their Children After Them. Imagine my amazement when I tried that title, and there it was! Maharidge and Williamson have followed in Agee and Evans footsteps to give readers "the rest of the story" of the tenant farmers' families and grandchildren, as well as the stories of Agee and Evans themselves. I congratulation them on an excellent book, and offer thanks to the families and their descendants for sharing their lifestories. Their lives did not take the path predicted for them by Agee: life refuses to be harnessed by prediction. Some went farther than anyone could have anticipated, while others came to a place, if possible, even worse than expected. As a second generation American, descended from Polish and Prussian immigrants who lived comparable lives, but who were blessed to own their own land, I identified closely with these stories, from the first page of "Let Us Praise" to the last page of "And Their Children".
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Format: Paperback
For readers of the original Agee/Evans collaboration, "And Their Children" is well worth the time. The reporter and photographer tracked down the 116 living offspring of the pseudonymous Gudger, Ricketts, and Woods families, as well as those who were part of the original book (12 of 22 who appeared in "Let Us Now" were still alive when they began their research in 1986). Not all were willing to be interviewed or photographed, but many were.

As with the first book, the tale here is not a particularly happy one. The author begins by recounting the suicide of Maggie Louise Gudger, age 10 in 1936, a particular favorite of Agee's, and dead at age 45--the same age at which Agee himself died from drink. And yet there are varying degrees of hope in many of the stories, such as that of Maggie Louise's daughter Debbie and her children.

The structure of the book follows each family through different periods: 1936-1940; 1940-1960; and 1960-1986. The author also includes sections on one of the local landowning families (which was far from rich!) and an African-American sharecropping family. Along the way, we learn surprising things about the evil (and Faulknerian) Fred Ricketts, the fate of Clair Bell (she did not die at age 4, as Agee had feared she would), the struggles of George Gudger, and the families' views on Agee, Evans, and the original book. About the children and grandchildren, we find out about those who ran away (and usually came back) and those who stayed; marriages; children; the end of farming; attempts at succeeding at school and at work; closeness and bitterness. It's all grippingly told. And the photographs that allow one to compare the state of things in 1936 and 1986 are excellent. Several photos exactly re-capture the originals.
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Format: Paperback
While I have Let Us Now Praise Famous Men on deck to read as well, the friend who loaned me the books explained she found And Their Children After Them first, and actually liked reading them in reverse order. So, I chose to follow her lead.

The book, even standing alone, is an intensely personal and touching look into the lives of people who many of us who enjoy the luxury of writing reviews on the Internet can never really understand. The backgrounds, upbringings and challenges were so vastly different, and the book does a good job of showing us something different, something very real.

I can understand the retiscence of some to participate in the book -- while reading passages in this book I often thought to myself what it would feel like to be the person being written about and to see the things about them in print. Like our society, there is a great deal of judgement in the book -- while they try to avoid it, it is there, and it's painful at times.

But it's all worth it, in my opinion, to uncover the many thought provoking things that relate to our world today, and that give me a better understanding of history and people's place within it.
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