This Day in Black History: Oct. 12, 1908

Ann Petry, the first Black female author to sell more than 1 million copies, was born in Old Saybrook, Connecticut.

Posted: 10/12/2012 08:00 AM EDT
Ann Petry

(Photo: Library of Congress)

Groundbreaking African-American writer Ann Petry was born on Oct. 12, 1908, in Old Saybrook, Connecticut.

After earning a Ph.D. in pharmacology from the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy, Petry changed course after marrying her husband George, a mystery writer, and moving to Harlem. Petry then began her writing career, composing advertising copy, atThe Amsterdam News. Later, she worked as a reporter and editor of the women's section of the People's Voice, a newspaper founded by civil rights activist Adam Clayton Powell Jr.

In 1946, Petry published The Street, a novel about one Black woman’s attempt at navigating the violence, poverty and racial oppression of 1940s Harlem. The book was wildly successful, selling 1.5 million copies and making Petry the first African-American woman to hold the distinction. Petry went on to publish short stories and two other novels. Today, The Street, continues to be considered a “masterwork.”

Petry died in 1997 at age 88.

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