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AND THEIR CHILDREN AFTER THEM by Dale Maharidse Kirkus Star


By Dale Maharidse

Pub Date: May 31st, 1989
ISBN: 394-57766-3
Publisher: Pantheon

A stunning, multilayered follow-up to Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee's classic portrait--with photographs by Walker Evans--of white sharecropper families in the Depression South. Over the course of three years, the authors (text by Maharidge, a journalist; photos by Williamson) tracked down the original subjects and their descendants, finding some modest success, much hard (and unrewarded) work and heartache. One of the most memorable characters in Agee's book was ten-year-old Maggie Louise--vibrant and intelligent, with dreams of becoming a teacher or nurse. Here, the authors open on a painful and powerful note: Maggie Louise grew up to commit suicide, a woman whose hopes were shattered. She becomes the symbol of thwarted potential (a potential only now beginning to be fulfilled by some of her descendants) that runs through the book. The authors have expanded the scope of Agee's study to include black families, and they provide other illuminating commentary. Maharidge considers the relationship of Agee with his journalistic subjects and the impact of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men on their lives: some relished their fame; some felt ridiculed and shamed by the profit of strangers; some resented the negative portrayal of Alabama (which exposed to view such atypical residents as Margaret Ricketts, who lived openly in incestuous union with her father and who now declares herself "rich-poor": toothless, living in a filthy, unimproved shack, scorning upward mobility, she is happy with her son and her Bible). Compelling human interest skillfully interwoven with the story of the rise and fall of cotton in the South--and essential reading about America.