The Street by Ann Petry
The Street, originally published in 1946, is a lesser-known classic of the Harlem Renaissance. I'd never heard of it until Now Read This (the PBS News Hour book club) selected it as their May 2020 read. It's also the first novel written by a black American woman to sell more than a million copies.
The main character is Lutie Johnson, a beautiful, young, black single mother. The story, set in Harlem, revolves around Lutie's daily struggles and frustrations as she strives to make a better life for herself and her son... while trying to protect them both from the dangers of "the street."
I never got to this book in 2020, but knew I would eventually. This summer we are renting a house in Old Saybrook, CT. While researching the town, I found Ann Petry listed among notable residents. Petry's father, a pharmacist, opened the first pharmacy is Old Saybrook. Ann also became a pharmacist. In 1938 Petry left Old Saybrook to pursue a literary career in New York, published her novel in 1946, and, in an effort to shun publicity, returned to Old Saybrook in 1947.
As many of you know, I am a retired hospital pharmacist so that connection, along with the location, made this the perfect time to finally read the book.
Even though The Street was written in 1946, it has a surprisingly contemporary feel. The challenges Lutie faces, especially the overt racism, seem insurmountable. As a result, a sense of frustration and hopelessness pervades the work. There is also anger. In fact, I've never read a novel that expresses anger at white people so directly. It's not surprising that this book hasn't been widely read over the years... perhaps it should be.
but inching closer to 5 stars as I continue to think about it