Ann Lane Petry was born to Peter Clarke Lane and Bertha James Lane on October 12, 1908, joining a family that had lived for several generations as the only black citizens of Old Saybook, Connecticut. The descendant of a runaway Virginian slave, Petry never felt herself to be a true New Englander; her cultural legacy was not that of the typical Yankee, and as a small child she came to know the effects of racism upon being stoned by white children on her first day of school.
Nevertheless, her family distinguished itself within the community and boasted numerous professionals: Her grandfather became a licensed chemist, her father, aunt, and uncle became pharmacists, and her mother became a chiropodist. Inspired by the examples of independent women relatives, Ann pursued a degree in pharmacology from the University of Connecticut and graduated as the only black student in the class of 1931. She worked in family-owned pharmacies until 1938, when she married George D. Petry and moved to New York City.
There, Petry began her writing career and quickly secured jobs with various newspapers. Participation in a creative writing seminar at Columbia University greatly influenced her during this period. Her first published short story, “On Saturday the Siren Sounds at Noon,” appeared in a 1943 issue of The Crisis and led to Petry’s receipt of the 1945 Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship. With that financial support, she completed The...
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