John Lingan

John Lingan has written for the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Morning News and other outlets. He lives outside Washington, D.C.

Recent Articles

Agee, Before He Was Famous

Can a rediscovered first draft of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men speak more directly to our time than the finished masterpiece? 

Library of Congress

By age 26, James Agee had spent four years at Fortune, the glossy magazine created by Henry Luce to celebrate the American business class, filing un-bylined reportage on topics like orchid cultivation and cockfighting and the occasional skeptical item on how the new Tennessee Valley Authority was playing out. Most writers would consider it a plum job, especially in the early 1930s. But Agee, politically progressive and instinctively adversarial, was uneasy over the magazine’s thrall to the lavish life. He had ambitions worthy of a Blake or a Dostoevsky: highly personal, mythic literature meant to get “as near truth and whole truth as is humanly possible,” as he put it in a letter in early 1936.