Ann Petry Biography

Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

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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Ann Petry Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Petry analyzes the American scene from a variety of angles, always exposing the debilitating impact of its hierarchical social systems and capitalistic materialism. Like her contemporaries, she recorded the daunting obstacles to human fulfillment facing those on the margins of American prosperity, and yet hers is finally a Christian existentialist vision celebrating the individual’s potential for spiritual liberation through which an entire culture might relinquish its crippling prejudices. Her examination of gender as another locus of oppression laid important groundwork for the writings of African American women since the 1960’s.

Ann Petry Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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 African American citizens of the resort community of Old Saybrook, Connecticut. The descendant of a runaway Virginian slave, Petry admitted to never having 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 isolating effects of racism after 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 was a licensed chemist; her father, aunt, and uncle became pharmacists; and her mother worked as a chiropodist. In 1902 Peter Lane opened a pharmacy in Old Saybrook, for which Ann herself trained. Inspired by the example of her many independent female relatives—women who had, she explained, “abandoned the role of housewife in the early twentieth century”—in 1931 Ann secured a degree in pharmacology from the University of Connecticut, the only black graduate in her class. She worked in family-owned pharmacies until 1938, when she met and married Louisiana-born George D. Petry and moved with him to his home in Harlem.

Petry had begun writing fiction seriously in high school after an antagonistic teacher grudgingly praised her work as having real potential, and she wrote steadily thereafter (although to no immediate success). With the move to New York City, her writing career began in earnest. She quickly secured jobs with various Harlem newspapers as a reporter, editor, and copywriter, working for the Amsterdam News and The People’s Voice (the latter a weekly begun by African American clergyman and politician Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.). She also briefly acted in the American Negro Theatre and worked on a study conducted by the New York Foundation investigating the effects of segregation on black children.

Participation in a creative writing seminar at Columbia University greatly influenced Petry during this time. Her first published short story, “On Saturday the...

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Ann Petry Biography (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Ann Lane Petry was born in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, to one of the town’s two African American families. Her father owned the village drugstore. A 1931 graduate of the University of Connecticut College of Pharmacy, for a time Petry operated the pharmacy in Old Lyme, one of two family-owned pharmacies. Petry grew up listening to stories of the African American experience told by family, visiting friends, and relatives.

In 1938 Ann Lane was married to George Petry; they moved to New York City. Petry left the pharmacy to follow a family tradition of storytelling. She worked for two Harlem newspapers, the Amsterdam News and People’s Voice. Petry’s first published work, “Marie of the Cabin Club,” a tale of romance and suspense, appeared under the pseudonym Arnold Petri in a Baltimore weekly newspaper.

In 1943, “On Saturday the Siren Sounds at Noon,” appeared in Crisis, a magazine founded by W. E. B. Du Bois. This story brought her to the attention of a book editor, who encouraged Petry to apply for the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship. In 1945, Petry entered and won the award. Her entry would become the first chapters of the novel The Street.

Petry returned to Old Saybrook in 1947, the debut year of her second novel, Country Place. In 1949, Petry launched a career as a children’s and young adults’ writer with The Drugstore Cat. Other works for children and young adults include Harriet Tubman, Conductor on the Underground Railroad, Tituba of Salem Village, and Legends of the Saints.

Petry continued to write short stories while she published novels and juvenile literature. Most of these stories were first published in African American journals. With one previously unpublished story, “Mother Africa,” these stories were collected in Miss Muriel, and Other Stories.

The core of Petry’s writing is racial identity, racism in America, and the experience of the African American woman. She is lauded by scholars and writers such as Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Calvin Hernton, and Maya Angelou as a great storyteller in the African American literary canon.

Ann Petry Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ann Petry (PEE-tree) was born Ann Lane, the younger of two daughters of Peter and Bertha Lane in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. Her father and his sister, the first black pharmacists in the community, owned the drugstore that employed Lane when she graduated from Connecticut College of Pharmacy in 1931. In 1938 she married George Petry and moved to New York City, where she worked as a journalist in Harlem and enrolled at Columbia University. After many rejections she sold a short story to Crisis, where two further stories appeared in 1945. At about this time Houghton Mifflin Publishing Company took an interest in her work and subsequently awarded her the Houghton Mifflin Fellowship Award for her novel The Street.

The Street, following the example of Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940), portrays a ghetto inhabitant who responds to a hopeless situation with an act of violence. In this case the protagonist is a Harlem woman, Lutie Johnson, who kills a bandleader who tries to seduce her. Lutie has attempted to escape from her impoverished existence by becoming a singer but discovers that she is regarded merely as property by those who exploit her. The killing is symbolic of the danger inherent in a racially segregated society, where violence is a form of self-assertion against a seemingly omnipotent enemy. Like other novels in the naturalistic tradition of the 1940’s, The Street is both a warning and a plea that the racist system must be changed.

In 1947 Petry broke away from the Wright tradition with the publication of Country Place. This work deals with the problems of a predominantly white cast of characters in a small New...

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Ann Petry Biography (Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Born in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, circa 1908, Ann Lane Petry initially followed a family tradition of pharmaceutical practice, graduating...

(The entire section is 262 words.)