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Posted on 04/12/2008


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Woman
Author's Guild
Ann Lane Petry
The Crisis
The Street
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Harlem
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Old Saybrook Connecticut


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Ann Lane Petry

Ann Lane Petry
[b. 1908 - d. 1997]

She was the first Black female author to address the problems African-American women faced as they struggled to cope with life in the inner city. Her novel, 'The Street,' published in 1946, was the first book by an African-American woman to sell over 1.5 million copies. Ann Lane was born into a middle class family in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, where her father, Peter Lane, opened a pharmacy in 1902. Her mother, Bertha James Lane, was a hairdresser, podiatrist, and entrepreneur. Her family was one of the few Black families in the White, shoreline community.

During the period 1938 to 1944, Mrs. Petry published her short stories in 'The Crisis,' the journal of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Opportunity, the magazine of the Urban League; and other periodicals. She also wrote articles on Harlem describing both its squalor and its wealth. She also worked in a special after-school program in the heart of Harlem and later wrote about latchkey children being raised in foster homes or by their mothers, who were working.

In 1943, in 'The Crisis,' she wrote "On Saturday, the Sirens at Noon" which won her a $2,500 Houghton-Mifflin literary award that led to a contract for 'The Street.' 'The Street' was published to critical and popular acclaim in 1946. A runaway success, it sold 1.5 million copies - the first novel by a Black woman to have achieved this distinction - and secured Mrs. Petry's literary reputation. During the following year, she also distinguished herself as a writer of short fiction, winning critical accolades for her story, "Like A Winding Sheet," which was published in Best American Short Stories of 1946. She followed the success of 'The Street' with two other novels, 'Country Place' (1947), and 'The Narrows' (1953).

The financial success of 'The Street' provided Mrs. Petry and her husband (mystery writer George Petry), the means to purchase a 200 year-old house in Old Saybrook, where they returned in 1948. She continued to write. After the birth of her daughter, Elisabeth, her focus was on books for children and young adults. Ann's goal in writing historical novels for young readers was to nurture their knowledge of and pride in the achievements and humanity of Black women throughout history. She wrote: 'The Drugstore Cat' (1949), 'Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad' (1955), and 'Tituba of Salem Village' (1964). She also published a collection of her short stories, 'Legends of the Saints' (1970), and another collection, 'Miss Muriel and Other Stories' (1971).

The reissue of 'The Street' in the mid 1980s triggered another round of critical acclaim by a new generation of readers and renewed attention by academics. In the early 1990's there was a flurry of activity around Mrs. Petry's work. She was given a Connecticut Arts Award in 1992 and a symposium on her writings was held at Trinity College in 1992. Mrs. Petry was appointed a visiting professor of English at the University of Hawaii (1944-45) and she lectured widely throughout the United States. Her contribution to literature has been acknowledged by membership in the Author's Guild and American P.E.N. (Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, and Novelists), and by honorary doctorates from several colleges and universities.

Bio: The Literary Enclyclopedia

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