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At Home Inside

At Home Inside: A Daughter's Tribute to Ann Petry

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    At Home Inside
    Book Description:

    Ann Petry (1908-1997) was a prominent writer during a period in which few black writers were published with regularity in America. Her novelsThe Street,Country Place, andThe Narrows, along with a collection of short stories and various essays and works of nonfiction, give voice to black experience outside of the traditional strains of poverty and black nationalism.

    At Home Inside: A Daughter's Tribute to Ann Petrysifts the myriad contradictions of Ann Petry's life from a daughter's vantage. Ann Petry hoarded antiques but destroyed many of her journals. She wrote, but, failing to publish for years, she used her imagination to design and sew clothes, to bake, and to garden. When fame finally came, Ann Petry did not enjoy the travel it brought. Though she suffered phobias and anxieties all her life, she did not avoid the obligations of literary success until late in her career.

    Ann Petry applied her formidable skills to stories she told about herself and her family, and the corrections Elisabeth Petry makes to her mother's inventions will prove invaluable. Talking about her life publicly, Ann Petry acknowledged six different birth dates. She hid her first marriage, and even represented her father, Peter C. Lane, Jr., as a potential killer. Mining Petry's journals Elisabeth Petry creates part biography, part love letter, and part sounding of her mother's genius and luminescent personality.

    Elisabeth Petry is a freelance writer with a juris doctor from the University of Pennsylvania. She lives in Middletown, Connecticut, and is the editor ofCan Anything Beat White? A Black Family's Letters(University Press of Mississippi).

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-589-5
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. 1-18)

    My mother did not want this book to exist. While she lived she discouraged all biographers and shunned most interviews. She wanted readers to direct their attention to her writing, not to her life. She wrote in her journal during the publicity campaign for the 1992 edition ofThe Street: “I feel as though I were a helpless creature impaled on a dissecting table—for public viewing. I am about to leave the territory but first I’m going to get a new unpublished telephone #.” She expressed these sentiments in various ways throughout her life. Her innate reticence meant that...

    (pp. 19-71)

    Many aspects of my mother’s early years involved mysteries. Some, such as her birth date and her feelings about her appearance, were easy to resolve. There were no satisfactory answers to others, for example, her view of her status in the town where she was born or the reasons she kept her marriage secret from her family for two years. Many of the mysteries were small (why she dropped the second “a” from her first name); others were more significant (how she felt about the customers who visited the family’s drugstore, information that she confided to her journal but rarely...

    (pp. 72-131)

    My mother spent a substantial amount of her writing life trying to answer questions on the same three themes: Why did you decide to become a writer? What were the sources for your novels and short stories? And later, why did you stop writing? She never found a satisfactory answer to the first question. She left some notes about the second. And even though she stopped publishing fiction, the answer to the third question was that she never stopped writing.

    The drive to create began early. She said she felt she had always had “the idea of being a writer—...

  7. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 132-187)

    Since I was old enough to talk in complete sentences, people have always asked, “What’s it like to have a famous mother?” I thought she was just like other mothers when I was young. She cooked and sewed and dusted just like the mothers of my friends. She drove me to Sunday school and home from Brownies just like other moms. She volunteered for various boards and organizations. Without a basis for comparison, how was I to know that other mothers didn’t disappear behind closed doors to work every day, or that other children weren’t under orders not to disturb...

  9. CODA
    (pp. 188-191)

    So what have I learned about this person who was my mother? She was a young girl, reminded over and over that she should have been a boy, that her sister was smarter, that she was too fat to wear attractive clothing. She was a young woman who struggled to conform at Hampton Institute and then felt inferior to the beautiful daughters of the Talented Tenth while she attended pharmacy school. She was an aspiring writer who received pages and pages of rejection letters from editors and criticism from most of her family. She was a true Yankee in some...