When writer Tayari Jones first discovered Ann Petry’s “The Street” as a college student, the sober cover art seemed to suggest it was an “Important Book with Serious Themes,” she recalls. But then she saw that her friend had a different copy, promising “sex and violence on the mean streets of Harlem.”
“My friend’s copy made me eager to crack open the book; I felt like we were somehow subverting our professor’s lofty goals for us as English majors,” Jones told the PBS NewsHour.
But judging the book by both of its covers sold Petry’s novel short; Jones discovered its “gorgeous writing” and the “complex analyses of race, gender and poverty” contained within. It has stayed at the top of her list of unsung American works of literature ever since.