Ann Lane Petry was born into one of the few black families of Old Saybrook, Connecticut, where her father was the local druggist. Petry received her PhG degree in 1931 from the University of Connecticut and returned home to work in the family business from 1931 until 1938. From 1944 to 1946, she studied creative writing at Columbia University. She married George Petry in 1938, and the couple settled in Harlem, where Petry worked for The Amsterdam News writing advertising copy and as a reporter and editor for The People's Voice. Her short story “On Saturday, the Sirens at Noon” was published in The Crisis, a magazine of the NAACP, and led to her contract with Houghton-Mifflin to write The Street, which was both a commercial and critical success. Thomas calls The Street the “first major literary work” to focus on the streets of Harlem, made remarkable because Petry's “exposure to Harlem street culture had been limited to nine months working with an experimental after-school program on West 116th Street” (9). Petry's other novels are Country Place (1947) and The Narrows (1953), but neither achieved the success of The Street. She also wrote books for children and young adults; two of the best known are Tituba of Salem Village and Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad. Her volume of short stories, Legends of the Saints, was published in 1970, and The Street was reissued as a paperback in 1992 (9).
Chapter one of The Street opens, as does nearly every other chapter, with a description of the street. This foregrounding of the setting gives the street character status and certainly establishes the primacy of the street in shaping the narrative. The street becomes a silent, but pervasive, agent of malignancy in the novel, and Lutie Johnson, the main character, views the street as an adversary second only to the film of racism that covers the black experience in America.