Pulitzer Book Club Inclusion Guide
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"A Death In The Family" by James Agee
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Born in Knoxville, James Rufus Agree was called Rufus by his family. When he was six years old, Agee’s father Jay was killed instantly in a car accident on the way home from a visit to his sick father. Agee, who was a struggling alcoholic, died of a sudden heart attack before “A Death in the Family” was published.
Featured Reader Wanted!
– Share your key take-away about inclusion in this book in a sentence or two.
– Write a paragraph or two (up to 250 words) to describe your thoughts on exclusion/inclusion in the book, why you related or did not connect with the book, and why you think reading, inclusion and dialog about inclusion matter.
– Identify the name and website address of a cause you support with an inclusive mission.
Sudden death underlines family’s differences in religion, class, emotional IQ
Phone call requesting a man in the family to come because there’s been a serious accident.
Autobiographical fiction centered on death published posthumously. Two sections of the novel written by Agee but placed in the novel by editors are called out with italics.
Short, gripping 310 pages or 10.5 listening hours.
Respect bandwidth. Grief, age, beliefs, alcohol and other considerations affect interpretation and response.
Teasing about the name Rufus and use of the slur “darky” are examples of the racial prejudice displayed in the novel. Women have subservient roles. Religious differences are a significant barrier.
It’s 3am, but you’re pious and going to cook the last breakfast: bacon, eggs, pancakes and coffee. Hot toddies may be required.
“And it was respect he needed, infinitely more than love. Just not to have to worry about whether people respect you. Not ever to have to feel that people are being nice to you because they are sorry for you, or afraid of you.”
Play You Tube of Samuel Barber’s 1947 music “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” set to Agee’s 1948 poem if you want operatic atmosphere for your gathering. Screen a Charlie Chaplin movie in the background and have a butterfly in the room.
Why the request for a man to come after the accident? How were women portrayed in the novel set in Knoxville in 1915?
Compare the way Victoria explains how Black people feel when they’re called colored to the way Mary talks to her young son about how to speak to Victoria. How does young Rufus feel about Victoria and want to communicate with her? How can adults help children be inclusive and vice versa?
Talk about what’s underneath the taunting of Rufus about his name.
How do characters describe injured victims of motor vehicle accidents who live?
How do family members address differences in how they feel about God and religion? Who resists the temptation to impose beliefs and ideas and why?
How does pity and grief connect and disconnect people? Be sure to talk about Ralph, the alcoholic undertaker brother and self-pity.
What affects the way people respond to what is said?
Be very careful while you’re driving to Knoxville to check out the magnolias and walking trail in the James Agee Park and the Beck Cultural Exchange Center. Floyd Garrett's Muscle Car Museum is about an hour’s conservative drive from Knoxville. The Museum of Death in New Orleans is eight hours away.
Tad Mosel created the 1961 Pulitzer Prize winning play "All the Way Home" based on the novel; a 1963 movie followed; “All the Way Home” was also a 1981 TV movie. “A Death in the Family” was a PBS Masterpiece Theatre broadcast in 2002.
1941 “Now Let Us Praise Famous Men” by Agee
2005 “Chaplin and Agee” by John Wranovics