Dust Bowl Days

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Let Us Now Trash Famous Authors by Christina Davidson
The Atlantic , April 2010

A black Chevy Suburban pulls up as I snap photos of the empty storefronts lining the main drag in Moundville, Alabama. The woman in the passenger seat holds up James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men , asking if I know where to find any information or historical markers commemorating the town's role in the literary classic, which chronicles the lives of three sharecropping families during the Depression. Having just asked seven locals the same question, I shake my head, telling the like-minded tourists that I have yet to meet anyone who has even heard of the book.

Stopping at a Petro station on my way out of town, I try one more time. "Oh sure, that's my kin," Pat, the station attendant, replies when I show her the book. Stunned, I don't quite know what to say. "Or actually my husband's kin," she clarifies, pointing at the cover. It features Walker Evans's iconic portrait of her husband's grandfather, Floyd Burroughs--identified pseudonymously in the book as "George Gudger."

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she edits digital features.

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