|Born / Died||1908–1997|
The Ann Petry collection consists of manuscripts, correspondence, printed material, photographs, audio recordings, and personal memorabilia.
Manuscripts by Petry in the collection include Petry's books Country Place (Houghton, 1947); Drugstore Cat (Crowell,1949); The Narrows (New American Library, 1953); Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad (Crowell, 1955); and Tituba of Salem Village (Crowell, 1964). Other manuscripts by Perry include an autobiographical sketch written for H. W. Wilson’s Third Book of Junior Authors ; an entry for the Encyclopedia Britannica on Harriet Tubman; and short stories and articles published in Omnibook, l’Arche, Redbook, Phylon and other periodicals.
Correspondence in the collection consists of personal and professional letters, dating from 1940 to 1970. Notable correspondents include Rosemary Benet, Paul Brooks, Hallie Burnett, Bennet Cerf, Helen Chisholm, Ruby Dee Davis, Thomas Evans, Laura Z. Hobson, Helen Hull, Mabel Louise Robinson, Budd Schulberg, Rex Stout, and Carl Van Vechten. Also present in the collection is fan mail, primarily from children (1956-1969), professional correspondence with editors and publishers, and letters regarding speaking engagements.
Printed material in the collection includes magazines containing pieces written by Petry. Publications include the Author’s Guild Bulletin, The New Yorker, Negro Digest, and others. Other printed items include reviews of Petry's work, profiles of Petry, and newspapers and magazines containing references to Petry.
Photographs in the collection include seven photos of Petry taken by Carl Van Vechten, a Crowell book display of Petry's work, Petry standing at a book display, and a photo of Petry's father, Peter C. Lane.
Audio recordings in the collection include an interview with Petry, as well as seven tapes for the "Author Round-Up Series: Civil War Panorama."
Personal memorabilia in the collection include honorary degrees for Petry from Suffolk University and the University of Connecticut, as well as a citation from the United Nations Association of the United States of America.
Author Ann Petry (1908 – 1997) holds the distinction of being the first black female author to crack the best-seller lists with her 1946 novel The Street (Houghton Mifflin), about a struggling Harlem mother facing violence and frustration in her daily life. When one considers that Petry was a transplanted New Yorker, and that the book was her first attempt at full-length fiction, her achievement gains more resonance and historic interest.
Ann Lane was born on October 12, 1908 in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, the daughter of pharmacist Peter C. Lane and his wife, the former Bertha James, a chiropodist who later operated her own linen business. Since several members of her family had opted for careers as druggists, young Ann Lane decided to chose that same path after graduating from Old Saybrook High School. She enrolled in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Connecticut and eventually earned a Doctor of Pharmacy degree. Lane then joined the family business, toiling at drug stores in Old Saybrook and nearby Lyme. Around this time, she also began to write short fiction.
Several months before she turned 30, Lane married George David Petry and the newlyweds settled in Harlem in New York City. Now known as Ann Petry, she began a career selling advertising space and writing copy for the local paper, the Amsterdam New s. Within a couple of years, she had moved to the rival People’s Voice, where she wrote general news pieces and served as editor of the women’s pages. This work gave her an intimate knowledge of the daily lives of Harlem residents and provided research material for her later fictional efforts.
After deciding to leave her newspaper job, Petry subsequently taught courses at the local YWCA and joined the American Negro Theatre, where she not only performed in amateur theatricals but also penned plays for children. She was also active in an early, experimental after-school program designed to assist children of working parents. At the same time, she continued to write short fiction. In November 1943, one story, “On Saturday, the Sirens at Noon” was selected for inclusion in the NAACP’s monthly magazine, The Crisis, and it caught the attention of editors at Houghton Mifflin. After submitting the first five chapters and a synopsis for The Street, Petry was awarded the 1945 Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship, which provided a stipend of $2400, allowing her to complete the novel. Published in 1946, The Street received generally favorable critical reviews and sold over 1.5 million copies.
With success came fame, and to escape from her newfound celebrity status Petry and her husband opted to abandon Harlem and return to her native Old Saybrook where they purchased a 200-year-old house. In 1947, her second novel, A Country Place (Houghton Mifflin), was published. Although it received respectful reviews, the book, about a man returning from war service who discovers his wife has been unfaithful, didn’t speak to the masses. Following the publication of her first children’s book, The Drugstore Cat (Crowell, 1949), Petry wrote her third, and what would be her last, adult novel. The Narrows (Houghton, 1953) proved risky and controversial, as it depicted an interracial romance between an Ivy League educated black man and a Caucasian heiress.
Petry spent her remaining years in Old Saybrook, raising her daughter Elizabeth and writing books for children, two of which, Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad (Harper, 1955) and Tituba of Salem Village (Crowell, 1964), have become minor classics, and short stories. She died at the age of 88 on April 28, 1997.
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