American Women Fiction Writers, 1900-1960 - Vol. 2

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

ANN PETRY
0. 1908

ANN LANE was born on October 12, 1908, in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, a neighorhood with only one other black family. Ann and her older sister, Helen, were born above the family business, James Pharmacy & Soda Fountain, where her father was a pharmacist. Her mother was a hairdresser and chiropodist who also had a successful textile business. Storytelling was an important part of family gatherings: Ann's uncles and her father told stories of magical ancestors, adventures on the road, and aunts who had been "conjure women." Ann began writing stories and poems while at Old Saybrook High School, and when a teacher encouraged her to become a writer, she later said that it was "like being crowned."

After graduating, Ann attended the Connecticut College of Pharmacy in New Haven.During this time, she wrote short stories and submitted them to magazines, without success. She completed a Ph.D. and worked in the family pharmacies in Old Saybrook and Lyme for the next seven years.

Although she had vowed to wait until she was published, Ann married the mystery writer George D. Petry in 1938 and moved to Harlem.There she wrote advertising copy for the Amsterdam News from 1938 to 1941 and was a reporter for the People's Voice from 1941 to 1946, where she wrote a column called " The Lighter Side." Petry wrote short stories in her spare time. Her first published story, " Marie of the Cabin Club," appeared in the Afro-American of August 19, 1939, under the pseudonym Arnold Petri.In 1943, she enrolled in Mabel Louise Robinson's writing class at Columbia University, because, as she later told an interviewer, "I was still collecting rejection slips. I figured there were some secrets I was missing." Shortly thereafter she began publishing stories in Crisis, Opportunity, Phylon, and other journals. She also acted in a production of the American Negro Theater and became involved in her community. Working in an after-school program in Harlem, Petry was deeply affected by the circumstances of many children left on their own while parents—or an only parent— worked. In response, she formed a political group, called Negro Women, Inc.

"On a Saturday the Siren Sounds at Noon" ( 1943), one of Petry's most powerful short stories, about the violence of Harlem life and its impact on a family, attracted the interest of Houghton Mifflin, which

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