October 12, 1908
Old Saybrook, CT, US
|Died||April 28, 1997 88) (aged|
Old Saybrook, CT, US
|Pen name||Arnold Petri|
|Alma mater||Connecticut College of Pharmacy|
|Notable works|| The Street (1946)|
The Narrows (1953)
Ann Petry (October 12, 1908 – April 28, 1997) was an American writer of novels, short stories, children's books and journalism. Her 1946 debut novel The Street became the first novel by an African-American woman to sell more than a million copies.
In 2019, the Library of America published a volume of her work containing The Street as well as her 1953 masterpiece The Narrows and a few shorter pieces of nonfiction.
Ann, born Anna Houston Lane,was born in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. She was the youngest of three daughters to Peter Clark Lane and Bertha James Lane. Her parents belonged to the black minority, numbering 15 inhabitants of the small town. Her father was a pharmacist and her mother was a shop owner, chiropodist, and hairdresser. Ann was also the niece of Anna Louise James.
Ann and her sister were raised "in the classic New England tradition: a study in efficiency, thrift, and utility (…) They were filled with ambitions that they might not have entertained had they lived in a city along with thousands of poor blacks stuck in demeaning jobs."In 1925, Ann graduated from high school as the only person of Afro-American descent.
The family had none of the trappings of the middle class until Petry was well into adulthood. Before her mother became a businesswoman, she worked in a factory, and her sisters worked as maids. The Lane girls were raised sheltered from most of the disadvantages that other black people in the United States had to experience due to the color of their skin; however there were a number of incidents of racial discrimination.
As Petry wrote in "My Most Humiliating Jim Crow Experience", published in Negro Digest in 1946, there was an incident where a racist decided that they did not want her on a beach. Her father wrote a letter to The Crisis in 1920 or 1921 complaining about a teacher who refused to teach his daughters and his niece.Another teacher humiliated her by making her read the part of Jupiter, the illiterate ex-slave in the Edgar Allan Poe short story "The Gold-Bug".
Petry had a strong family foundation with well-traveled uncles, who had many stories to tell her when coming home; her father, who overcame racial obstacles, opened a pharmacy in the small town; and her mother and aunts set a strong example: Petry, interviewed by The Washington Post'' in 1992, says about her tough female family members that "it never occurred to them that there were things they couldn’t do because they were women."
Petry's desire to become a professional writer was raised first in high school when her English teacher read her essay to the class and commented on it with the words: "I honestly believe that you could be a writer if you wanted to."The decision to become a pharmacist was her family's. After graduating in 1929 from Old Saybrook High School, she went to college and graduated with a Ph.G. degree from the University of Connecticut College of Pharmacy in New Haven in 1931 and worked in the family business for several years, while also writing short stories. On February 22, 1938, she married George D. Petry of New Iberia, Louisiana, and moved to New York. She worked as a journalist writing articles for newspapers including The Amsterdam News (between 1938 and 1941) and The People's Voice (1941–44), and published short stories in The Crisis , where her first story appeared in 1943, Phylon , and other outlets. Between 1944 and 1946 she studied creative writing at Columbia University. She also worked at an after-school program at P.S. 10 in Harlem. It was during this period that she experienced and understood what the majority of the black population of the United States had to go through in their everyday life. Traversing the Harlem streets, living for the first time among large numbers of poor black people, seeing neglected children up close—Petry's early years in New York inevitably made impressions on her and led her to put her experiences to paper. Her daughter Liz explained to The Washington Post'' that "her way of dealing with the problem was to write this book [The Street], which maybe was something that people who had grown up in Harlem couldn’t do."
Petry's first and most popular novel, The Street, was published in 1946 and won the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship with book sales exceeding one million copies.She was featured in a brief All-American News film segment covering her winning the award.
Back in Old Saybrook in 1947, Petry worked on Country Place (1947), The Narrows (1953), other stories, and books for children, but they never achieved the same success as her first book. She drew on her personal experiences of the hurricane in Old Saybrook in Country Place. Although the novel is set in the immediate aftermath of World War II, Petry identified the 1938 New England hurricane as the source for the storm that is at the center of her narrative.
Petry was a member of the American Negro Theater and appeared in productions including On Striver's Row.She also lectured at University of California, Berkeley, Miami University and Suffolk University, and was Visiting Professor of English at the University of Hawaii.
She died in Old Saybrook at the age of 88 on April 28, 1997. She was outlived by her husband George, who died in 2000, and her only daughter, Liz Petry.
In November, 2018, Tayari Jones called for a revival of Petry's acclaim, writing that Petry "is the writer we have been waiting for, hers are the stories we need to fully illuminate the questions of our moment, while also offering a page-turning good time."
William Dean Howells was an American realist novelist, literary critic, and playwright, nicknamed "The Dean of American Letters". He was particularly known for his tenure as editor of The Atlantic Monthly, as well as for his own prolific writings, including the Christmas story "Christmas Every Day" and the novels The Rise of Silas Lapham and A Traveler from Altruria.
Carson McCullers was an American novelist, short-story writer, playwright, essayist, and poet. Her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940), explores the spiritual isolation of misfits and outcasts in a small town of the Southern United States. Her other novels have similar themes and most are set in the deep South.
Theodora Sarah Orne Jewett was an American novelist, short story writer and poet, best known for her local color works set along or near the southern seacoast of Maine. Jewett is recognized as an important practitioner of American literary regionalism.
Arna Wendell Bontemps was an American poet, novelist and librarian, and a noted member of the Harlem Renaissance.
Scott O'Dell was an American author of 26 novels for young people, along with three novels for adults and four nonfiction books. He wrote historical fiction, primarily, including several children's novels about historical California and Mexico. For his contribution as a children's writer he received the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1972, the highest recognition available to creators of children's books. He received The University of Southern Mississippi Medallion in 1976 and the Catholic Libraries Association Regina Medal in 1978.
Harriet E. Wilson was an African-American novelist. She was the first African American to publish a novel on the North American continent. Her novel Our Nig, or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black was published anonymously in 1859 in Boston, Massachusetts, and was not widely known. The novel was discovered in 1982 by the scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who documented it as the first African-American novel published in the United States.
Mary Josephine Lavin wrote short stories and novels. An Irishwoman, she is now regarded as a pioneer in the field of women's writing. The well-known Irish writer Lord Dunsany mentored Lavin after her father approached him on her behalf to discuss with him some stories she had written.
Dorothy West was an American storyteller and short story writer during the time of the Harlem Renaissance. She is best known for her 1948 novel The Living Is Easy, as well as many other short stories and essays, about the life of an upper-class black family.
Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins was a prominent African-American novelist, journalist, playwright, historian, and editor. She is considered a pioneer in her use of the romantic novel to explore social and racial themes.
Alice Randall is an American author and songwriter. She is perhaps best known for her novel The Wind Done Gone, a reinterpretation and parody of the popular 1936 novel Gone with the Wind.
Connie Rose Porter is an African-American writer of young-adult books, and a teacher of creative writing. Porter is best known for her contribution to the American Girl Collection Series as the author of the Addy books: six of her Addy books have gone on to sell more than 3 million copies. In addition, she published two novels with Houghton-Mifflin, All-Bright Court (1991), and Imani All Mine (1999).
Ann Eliza Bleecker was an American poet and correspondent. Following a New York upbringing, Bleecker married John James Bleecker, a New Rochelle lawyer, in 1769. He encouraged her writings, and helped her publish a periodical containing her works.
Tayari Jones is the author of four novels, most recently An American Marriage, which was a 2018 Oprah's Book Club Selection, and won the 2019 Women's Prize for Fiction. Jones is a graduate of Spelman College, the University of Iowa, and Arizona State University. She is currently a member of the English faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences at Emory University, and recently returned to her hometown of Atlanta after a decade in New York City. Jones was Andrew Dickson White Professor-at-large at Cornell University before becoming Charles Howard Candler Professor of Creative Writing at Emory University.
Agnes Sligh Turnbull was a bestselling American writer, most noted for her works of historical fiction based in her native Western Pennsylvania.
The Narrows is a 1953 novel by African-American writer Ann Petry. The name "The Narrows" is the African-American section of the fictional town of Monmouth, Connecticut, in which most of the novel's action takes place.
Blanche Willis Howard was a best-selling American novelist who lived most of her productive years in southern Germany.
Sook Nyul Choi is a Korean American children's storybook author.
Ellen Warner Olney Kirk was an American novelist. Her novels tended to have romance plots set in New York or Philadelphia.
Trudier Harris is an American literary historian, currently at University of Alabama and formerly the J. Carlyle Sitterson Distinguished Professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Anna Louise James was the first female African American pharmacist in Connecticut. She operated the James Pharmacy in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, for fifty years.