Rediscover: The Street

Ann Petry's The Street (1946) was the first novel by an African American woman to sell more than a million copies. Petry (1908-1997) was born in a small, predominately white Connecticut town to a working-class family. Her father eventually opened a pharmacy and her mother became a businesswoman, moving them to middle-class comfort. Despite several incidences of discrimination, Petry said she grew up free from many systemic challenges faced by other black people. She earned a pharmacy degree and worked for several years at her father's business before marrying and moving to New York City, where she wrote for multiple newspapers and studied creative writing at Columbia. Petry also worked at a school after-care in Harlem, which exposed her to neglected children and the plight of black urban poverty. She also wrote Country Place (1947) and The Narrows (1953), along with several children's books and story collections.

The Street follows single black mother Lutie Johnson in World War II-era Harlem. Despite daily encounters with racism, classism and sexism, Lutie firmly believes in Benjamin Franklin's philosophy of working hard and saving money, hoping one day to move herself and her son out of their tenement on 116th Street. But when the wealthy white owner of her building takes an interest in Lutie, all her plans are put in jeopardy. Today, Mariner Books is releasing a new edition of The Street with an introduction by Tayari Jones ($15.99, 9780358187547). --Tobias Mutter
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