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James Agee and David McDowell Papers

Identifier: MS-1500

  • Staff Only

Collection of material documenting the work of David McDowell especially as it relates to author James Agee.

One portion of this collection houses material that David McDowell gathered for his unfinished biography of James Agee. This includes numerous examples of Agee's work, including some unpublished materials. Among these items are notes, poems, manuscripts about John Carter, two unpublished chapters of A Death in the Family, an issue of the Harvard Advocate containing one of Agee's early poems, and two screenplays. Also included are three notebooks that contain numerous diary entries and personal notes.

The other portion contains items showing McDowell's career in the publishing industry. While much of this material documents his considerable editorial and publishing pursuits, some show his work with Agee and his writings. As trustee for the James Agee Trust, McDowell frequently corresponded with Agee researchers and biographers as well as with the author's family and friends. Of particular interest is the extensive correspondence between McDowell and Father James H. Flye of St. Andrews School in Sewanee, Tennessee.


  • 1932-1985

Conditions Governing Access

Collections are stored offsite, and a minimum of 2 business days are needed to retrieve these items for use. Researchers interested in consulting any of the collections are advised to contact Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers who wish to photocopy from this collection must first obtain written permission from the owners of the copyrights (the James Agee Trust). Upon presentation of such written permission from the Trust, photocopying will be allowed to the extent granted in the permission. UT Libraries reserves the right to deny photocopying if the material is too fragile or if in our judgment photocopying will contribute significantly to its deterioration. Patrons should note that permission to photocopy does not grant permission to publish. James Agee Trust c/o the Wylie Agency 250 W. 57th Street, Suite 2114 New York, NY 10107 Phone: (212) 246-0069 Fax: (212) 586-8953


3 Linear Feet


Collection of material documenting the work of David McDowell especially as it relates to author James Agee. One portion of this collection houses material that McDowell gathered for his unfinished biography of Agee. The other portion contains items showing McDowell's career in the publishing industry.

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. 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.

David Ulrey McDowell was born on January 20, 1918 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He began his career in publishing as a publicity director for New Directions. He then worked as an editor for Random House (1949-1957) before founding a publishing house named McDowell, Obolensky with Ivan Obolensky. One of the first books the organization published was James Agee's A Death in the Family. McDowell left the firm in 1960 to join Crown Publishers. He also served as the first trustee of the James Agee Trust, which was established for Agee's children with the royalties from Agee's writings. At the time of his death in April of 1985, McDowell was writing a biography of James Agee.


This collection consists of two series:

  1. Series I: James Agee Papers, 1935 October 29-1974 September 22
  2. Series II: David McDowell Papers, 1940-1985

Acquisition Note

These papers were purchased with funds from the Lindsay Young Endowment.

Related Archival Materials

Interested researchers may wish to consult these additional collections related to James Agee: MS.1904, MS.1998, MS.2296, MS.2474, MS.2625, MS.2730, 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