Willow River Press is excited to announce the Winter 2022 release of All Other Free Persons by Elisabeth Petry.
A young indentured servant knees her employer in the groin after he tries to rape her. It’s 1830, and Diana feels utterly abandoned after her mother’s husband refuses to let her return to their hovel in the woods of a tiny farming community in northeastern Connecticut. She isn’t even certain of her last name, though her mother offers her a few hints that allow her to begin a search for her father. She assuages her feelings by writing poetry, some of which she gives to people who are kind to her. She makes her way to New London where a formerly enslaved Black woman who runs a boarding house for whaling men gives her shelter and hires her – until she realizes Diana may be white. The two women compete in business and become rivals for the love of a whaling man from Cape Verde.
All Other Free Persons offers a mixture of historical events and people with a fictional narrative that includes a hint of magical realism. The whole provides a more balanced portrait of life in nineteenth century New England, where women became entrepreneurs and people of color had a substantial influence on the society.
Old Saybrook, Connecticut, native Elisabeth Petry is a writer and lecturer, and a former journalist and lawyer. Her first book, Can Anything Beat White?: A Black Family’s Letters (University Press of Mississippi 2005), consists of edited versions of the four hundred notes and letters from her enslaved great-grandparents and their children, including a description of the last Hawaiian queen and a plea for money to escape a lynching in Georgia. This work is serving as the basis of a documentary in development, Ann Petry and the James Family Letters.
Her second work, At Home Inside: A Daughter’s Tribute to Ann Petry (University Press of Mississippi 2009), is a memoir about her bestselling, award-winning novelist mother.
She contributed an essay, “Just Like Georgia, Except for the Climate: Black Life at Mid-Century in Ann Petry’s The Narrows,” to African American Connecticut Explored (Wesleyan University Press 2014). A version of that essay appeared in the fall 2014 issue of the magazine Connecticut Explored. She published “Searching for My James and Lane Families” in the Fall 2019 issue of the state’s history magazine Connecticut Explored.
She has also taught college English and is conducting a weekly writing workshop for military veterans. We Were There, a collection of their memoirs, is in the editing phase. She holds an A.B. from Vassar College and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
She has intimate knowledge of the subject matter of All Other Free Persons because her family has ties to some of the lead characters. She conducted extensive research into their background and can tell their stories with eloquence and passion.