Virago Modern Classics is publishing two novels by Ann Petry next year, The Street and The Narrows, in a bid to spark "a major reappraisal" of the author's work.
The Street, originally published in 1946, was an international literary event at the time, and is the first novel by a black woman to sell more than a million copies. Set in World War Two era Harlem, it tells the story of a young black single mother with ambitions of making a better life for herself.
The reissue of Petry's first and most popular novel has been given a new introduction by Women’s Prize-winner Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage (Oneworld), and will publish in January 2020. The Narrows, first published in 1953 and also exploring themes of race, class and gender, will follow on later in the year.
Writing for the New York Times, Jones said: "What can be done to ignite an Ann Petry revival? Sometimes when a writer is regarded as 'before her time' we don’t quite understand that the same work is right on time."
Donna Coonan acquired UK and Commonwealth rights excluding Canada, from Abner Stein on behalf of Jesseca Salky at Salky Literary Management.
Coonan said: "These novels offer a fierce commentary on racism, sexism and class while having the pace of a thriller. In the era of #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, I was taken aback by how contemporary and subversive Petry is – the issues of her time are our issues today, and her books are powerful, prescient and absolutely unputdownable. The Street will also be reissued by Houghton Mifflin in America and we are aiming for a major reappraisal of her work."
Petry, raised in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, was a pharmacist and reporter before becoming a novelist. She died, aged 88, in 1997.