Women at Work: Audrey Petty

September 16, 2013 | By | Comments (0)

The Southern Foodways Alliance will host its 16th annual Southern Foodways Symposium called “Women at Work” on October 4-6 in Oxford, Mississippi. While much attention has focused on women as stewards of home and hearth, the SFA asks how these farmers, artisans, and cooks built businesses and forged identities outside the domestic sphere. This year’s symposium is sold out, but the SFA will blog about the proceedings throughout the weekend and post videos and podcasts soon after. Between now and October 4, we’re introducing you to some of the women who will be presenting at the Southern Foodways Symposium.

Audrey Petty

Spotlight On: Audrey Petty
Her Work: Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Illinois; editor of High Rise Stories: Voices from Chicago Public Housing (McSweeney’s Voice of Witness series, September 2013)
Home Base: Chicago, Illinois

Audrey Petty grew up in Chicago, Illinois, the child of parents from Arkansas and Alabama. Her essays, poetry, and short stories have appeared in publications such as The Southern ReviewStoryQuarterlyThe Oxford AmericanCallaloo, and Saveur. At the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium, Petty will be speaking about her recent work as editor of High Rise Stories, a collection of oral histories from former residents of Chicago’s public housing apartments. Many of the occupants of the public housing projects were African-American families who had moved to Chicago from the South during the Great Migration. As Petty learned, these families often retained Southern traditions in their domestic lives, especially in the kitchen. (Petty herself has written about preparing chitlins with her mother in their Chicago kitchen.)

“Having grown up in Chicago, I felt shock and a surprising sense of loss as I saw some of the buildings in the process of being razed, or as I simply came upon the absence of others,” says Petty of the public housing developments, which were vacated and demolished in the early 2000s. “The erasure of the buildings made me intensely curious about where and how residents relocated. I also felt an urgent desire to learn about and to document residents’ experiences in their former homes.”

Petty says that one of her favorite stories from the project was that of a prolific and generous home cook. “Miss Millsap kept an open kitchen in her apartment at Stateway Gardens, a public housing development on the city’s South Side. For years, she set her tables and cooked from scratch three square meals for anyone who was hungry in her community, including one of the narrators of High Rise Stories, Lloyd Haywood. Miss Millsap fed hundreds of people. I hope to meet her someday soon.”

Hungry for more? Click here to read an essay by Audrey Petty on domestic workers and The Help from the SFA’s Gravy quarterly. 

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