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Special Collections Online at UT

James Agee and James Agee Trust Collection

Identifier: MS-2730

  • Staff Only

This collection is divided into three series: Series I: James Agee and Family Papers, circa 1920-1960; Series II: The James Agee Trust Papers, circa 1920-2003, Series III: Oversize materials, 1930s-2000s.

The first series, James Agee and Family Papers, is divided into six sub-series: Sub-Series A: Correspondence; Sub-Series B: Financial and Legal Documents; Sub-Series C: Clippings; Sub-Series D: Pictures; Sub-Series E: Writings; and Sub-Series F: Other. In the Correspondence sub-series (I. A.), the original order has been maintained. Correspondents without a last known name are in a folder marked "No last name", and some may be organized by several last names (e.g., James' sister Emma is under A for Ms. Agee and L for Mrs. Ling).

The Writings sub-series (I. E.) contains examples of Agee's prose, including autobiographical material, drafts of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and movie reviews; Agee's poetry, such as Permit Me Voyage material and Sunday: Outskirts of Knoxville, Tenn. drafts; and the writings of others, including Witness by Whitaker Chambers. These writings by others were likely presented to Agee or one of his wives.

The bulk of the material related to the James Agee Trust is currently restricted. The only files available to researchers are located in Sub-Series A: James Agee Files, 1920s-2000s. This sub-series contains photocopies of Agee's letters and works, pamphlets from St. Andrew's School in 2001-02, as well as copies of the University of Tennessee Library Development Review with articles on Agee.


  • circa 1920-2003

Conditions Governing Access

Collections are stored offsite and must be requested in advance. See for detailed information. Collections must be requested through a registered Special Collections research account.

Conditions Governing Use

Patrons who wish to use portions of this collection must first obtain written permission from the owners of the copyright: The James Agee Trust Paul Sprecher, Trustee 302 Linden Ponds Way #214, Hingham, MA 02043 (201) 670-7569


18 Linear Feet


The James Agee and James Agee Trust Collection, circa 1920-2003, contains materials belonging to James Agee, his family, and the James Agee Trust, which was established to protect the rights of his widow Mia and their three children. Material related to Agee himself includes an abundance of correspondence (with his wives, his mother Mrs. Erskine (Laura) Wright, and friends and co-workers, such as David McDowell, Charlie and Oona Chaplin, Robert Fitzgerald, Archibald Macleish, Walker Evans, John Huston, David O. Selznick, etc.), financial and legal papers, clippings, articles, pictures, and his writings. The hand- and typewritten works among his papers include published and unpublished pieces, including drafts of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (a.k.a. Cotton Tenants), A Tanglewood Story, multitudinous poems, schoolwork, etc. The materials related to the James Agee Trust are currently closed to researchers, except by permission of the Trust.

Biographical/Historical Note

James Rufus Agee was born in Knoxville, Tennessee on November 27, 1909 to Hugh James Agee and Laura Whitman Tyler. He had one sister, Emma. Hugh Agee was killed in an automobile accident in 1916. In 1918, Laura relocated the family to Sewanee, Tennessee. James attended the St. Andrew’s School where he met Father James Harold Flye who would become his lifelong close friend and mentor. The Agees returned to Knoxville in 1924, and James attended Knoxville High School for a year, before transferring to Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. He was accepted into Harvard University’s class of 1932.

Upon graduation, Agee wrote for Fortune magazine from 1932-1937, and published his only volume of poetry, Permit Me Voyage, in 1934. In 1941, Agee turned material for a scrapped Fortune article into his first book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Agee is also credited as a screenwriter on both The African Queen and The Night of the Hunter, both released in 1955. Published posthumously in 1957, A Death in the Family is Agee’s autobiographical novel set in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Agee led a somewhat tumultuous personal life. He was married to Via Saunders from 1933-1938. Later in 1938 he married Alma Mailman, and had a son with her, Joel, before their divorce in 1941. He then married Mia Fritsch in 1946, and they two daughters, Julia and Andrea, and a son, John. Agee died of a heart attack on May 16, 1955. In 1999, the street where Agee was born was renamed to James Agee Street in the Fort Sanders neighborhood of Knoxville.


This collection consists of three series:

  1. Series I: James Agee and Family Papers, circa 1920-1960
    • Sub-Series A: Correspondence, circa 1930-1960
      • Section 1: To James Agee, 1930s-1950s, 1962, undated
      • Section 2: From James Agee, 1930s-1950s, undated
      • Section 3: To Mia (Fritsch) Agee, 1930s-1960s
      • Section 4: To Alma (Mailman) Agee, 1939-1941
      • Section 5: To/From Other People, 1940s-1969, undated
    • Sub-Series B: Financial and Legal Documents, 1940s-1963
    • Sub-Series C: Clippings, 1930s-1940s
    • Sub-Series D: Photographs and Drawings, circa 1930s-1950s
    • Sub-Series E: Writings, 1920s-1950s, 1964, undated
      • Section 1: Agee's Prose, 1920s-1950s
      • Section 2: Agee's Poetry, 1930s-1950s
      • Section 3: Other People's Writing, 1949-1964, undated
    • Sub-Series F: Other, 1930s-1960, undated
  2. Series II: The James Agee Trust Papers, circa 1920-2003
    • Sub-Series A: James Agee Files, 1920s-2000s
    • Sub-Series B: Permissions, 1960s-2000s
    • Sub-Series C: Contracts and Royalties, 1934, 1940, 1950s-2000s
    • Sub-Series D: Legal, Taxes, and Derivative Works, 1960s-2000s
    • Sub-Series E: Other, 1960s-1980s
    • Sub-Series F: Loose Materials, 1970s-2000s, undated
  3. Series III: Oversized Materials, 1930s-2000s

Acquisition Note

Special Collections purchased this material between 2009 and 2010.

Related Archival Materials

Interested researchers may wish to consult these additional collections: MS.1500 MS.1904 MS.1998 MS.2296 MS.2474 MS.2625 MS.2832 MS.3045 MS.3142 MS.3200 MS.3229 MS.3277 MS.3450 MS.3702 MS.3824 MS.3839

Repository Details

Part of the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives, University of Tennessee, Knoxville Repository

University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Knoxville TN 37996 USA