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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