A bestselling American author, she became famous for her 1946 novel, The Street, which illuminates the difficulties faced by a single, black mother in New York City. Her other works include Country Place (1947) and The Narrows (1953).
She worked in her family's pharmacy business for several years. After moving to New York in the early 1940s, she began to publish newspaper articles and short stories.
She was the first female African American author to sell a million copies of a book.
She and her two sisters were born in Old Saybrook, Connecticut to Bertha and Peter Lane. In 1938, she married author George Petry.
Her non-fiction work, Harriet Tubman: Conductor On The Underground Railroad, was published in 1955.