The University of Tennessee, in partnership with the City of Knoxville, Knox County and other community organizations, will host a James Agee Celebration throughout April to highlight and explore the Knoxville native’s work in literature and the arts.
The series of exhibitions, theater adaptations, films and concerts and lectures will culminate with James Agee Week, April 13 -17 and wrap up with dedication of the James Agee Park.
Michael Lofaro, UT Lindsay Young Professor of English, is event chair. Lynn J. Champion, director of outreach for the College of Arts and Sciences, is associate chair.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his Knoxville-based novel, “A Death in the Family,” the late Agee was internationally acclaimed for his screenplays for “The African Queen” and “The Night of the Hunter.” Agee was also a poet and journalist, who wrote for Time, Fortune and Life magazines and established film criticism as an art form.
Agee’s career highlights also included his avant-garde experimentation in the now-classic novel “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” and his work with two of the most famous photographers of his time, Walker Evans and Helen Levitt.
His writing has inspired a large body of music by composers from Samuel Barber to Aaron Copland.
“The celebration is a wonderful opportunity to study Agee’s breadth of achievements in the 30’s, 40’s and early 50’s that serve as a cultural barometer for that time,” Lofaro said. “It also gives us a chance to learn more about how the popular image and legend of James Agee as a romantic overachiever quite often overshadows the fact that he was a much broader artist and finer craftsman than many realize.”
Champion said that Agee’s many connections to East Tennessee warrant an event of this magnitude.
“The celebration is one of the best examples of a town-gown partnership in which the University joins with local government and community organizations to celebrate our community’s wonderful cultural assets,” said Champion.
“The genius and talent of James Agee are of such breadth and scope that it takes an entire community to celebrate him.”
Among the highlights are six art and essay exhibitions at venues throughout Knoxville including the Knoxville Museum of Art (KMA), UT’s Downtown Gallery, the East Tennessee History Center and the Knox County Public Library. The main exhibit, “James Agee: A Celebration of His Work,” will open on Friday, April 1 at UT’s Hoskins Library and will run through August 15 and the exhibition of Walker Evans’ photographs, including some never before seen works, will continue at the UT Downtown Gallery until April 17.
“All the Way Home,” Tad Mosel’s Pulitzer-prize winning stage adaptation of “A Death in the Family,” will be performed at 8 p.m., April 7 through April 23 at the Clarence Brown Theater. “The Man Who Lives Here is Loony,” a one-man play by R.B. Morris, UT libraries writer-in-residence, will be performed at 7 p.m. April 10 and at 8 p.m. on April 11 at the Carousel Theatre.
Documentaries about Agee and his work will be shown throughout the month as part of the celebration’s film festival. The Knoxville Museum of Art will screen “Mr. Lincoln: The Omnibus Television Series,” at 5 p.m., April 12. Showings of “The Night of the Hunter” will be at 8 p.m., April 14 in Hodges Library and “The African Queen” at 8 p.m., April 15 in the University Center.
Agee Week will feature dramatic readings and commentary on his works by creative writers including his daughter, Deedee Agee; nationally acclaimed poet Fred Chappell and novelist David Madden; Paul Sprecher, trustee of the James Agee Trust; and several of UT’s published authors on Agee, including Lofaro and Paul Ashdown, UT professor of journalism and electronic media. Bruce Wheeler, UT professor emeritus of history, will speak on “James Agee’s Knoxville,” a discussion of historical landmarks, which will be followed by “Walking Agee’s Knoxville,” a guided tour led by Charles Aiken, UT professor of geography.
UT’s music ensembles will perform the world premier of “From Barber to Copland: The Inspiration of James Agee,” conducted by Roger Stephens, director of the School of Music, at 8 p.m., Saturday, April 16 in the UT Music Hall.
Charles Thomas, community and greenway activist and chair of the James Agee Park Committee, will lead the dedication of the new park. Set for 2:30 p.m., Sunday, April 17, at the corner of James Agee Street and Laurel Avenue, the ceremony will involve UT, Knoxville city officials and representatives of the Fort Sanders Neighborhood Association. A dramatic reading by Ashdown and free concert by the R.B. Morris Band will follow.
Nearly all events are free and every event is designed for general public. On site registration required for Agee Week presentations. Parking is available at the University Center Parking Garage on Phillip Fulmer Way.
For the complete schedule of events, visit http://jamesageecelebration.utk.edu.
The James Agee Celebration is made possible by the University of Tennessee, Tennessee Arts Commission, the Knoxville News Sentinel and WUOT-FM radio. Key community partners include the City of Knoxville and Knox County governments, libraries and schools, the Arts and Cultural Alliance, Keep Knoxville Beautiful, the Dogwood Arts Festival and the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corporation.