Black Lives Matter—Remembering Pharmacist-Author Ann Petry

Author Ann Petry in 1984
Author Ann Lane Petry in 1984

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The astonishing worldwide demonstrations precipitated by a police officer’s suffocation of George Floyd (May 25, 2020), a black man in Minneapolis, bring to mind the vast literature by black American authors that have exposed the malignancy of racial prejudice. One such author, Ann Lane Petry (1908-1997), was a pharmacist before gaining wide acclaim as a writer of novels, short stories, and children’s books.

In 1986, AIHP’s journal Pharmacy in History published an insightful article, “Ann Petry: From Pharmacist to Novelist,” which assesses Petry’s writing, summarizing plot lines that involve pharmacists and drug stores and detailing her major themes of racism, sexism, and poverty. Written by Suzanne Poirier of the University of Illinois at Chicago and occasioned by Petry’s 1984 visit to the University at the invitation of the College of Pharmacy, the article also provides a brief biographical sketch of Petry. AIHP is pleased to make “Ann Petry from Pharmacist to Novelist” (Pharmacy in History 28, No. 1 (1986): 26-33) open access and available to all readers through the end of 2020.

Petry graduated from the Connecticut College of Pharmacy (which later became part of the University of Connecticut) in about 1930 and returned to her hometown, Old Saybrook, Connecticut, to practice pharmacy in the family drug store with her father, Peter Clark Lane, and aunt, Anna Louise James. James, herself, is notable in pharmacy history as the first black woman pharmacist in Connecticut and the only woman and only African-American in her 1908 class at the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy.

Ann Petry’s most successful novel, The Street (published in 1946), has recently experienced a resurgence of interest, stimulated by its May 2020 selection by the book club of the PBS NewsHour and The New York Times.

In her 1986 article, Dr. Poirier summarized one of the important universal themes of Petry’s writing:

Whether writing about the Salem witch trials, Harlem in the 1940s, or even a small white community at the end of World War II, Petry’s writing always presents individuals caught in the flux of historical, social, and moral upheaval, times in which all people—both black and white—are victims of prejudice, and vulnerable because even organizations for social good are subject to prejudice (p. 32).

Please read the article, “Ann Petry from Pharmacists to Novelist” to learn more about the life and the writing of Ann Petry.

Contributed by pharmacist William A. Zellmer, AIHP Advisor for Pharmacy Outreach.

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