Born Juan Pedro Tomás, of Puerto Rican and Cuban parents in New York City's Spanish Harlem in 1928, Piri Thomas began his struggle for survival, identity, and recognition at an early age. The vicious street environment of poverty, racism, and street crime took its toll and he served seven years of nightmarish incarceration at hard labor. But, with the knowledge that he had not been born a criminal, he rose above his violent background of drugs and gang warfare, and he vowed to use his street and prison know-how to reach hard core youth and turn them away from a life of crime.

In 1967, with a grant from the Rabinowitz Foundation, both his career and fame as an author were launched with the electrifying autobiography, Down These Mean Streets. After more than 25 years of being constantly in print, it is now considered a classic.

In Down These Mean Streets, Piri Thomas made El Barrio (the neighborhood) a household word to multitudes of non-Spanish-speaking readers. A front-page review in the New York Times book review section May 21, 1967 proclaimed: "It claims our attention and emotional response because of the honesty and pain of a life led in outlaw, fringe status, where the dream is always to escape."

Savior, Savior Hold My Hand also received wide critical acclaim, as did Seven Long Times, a chronicle of one man's experience in New York's dehumanizing penal system. Stories from El Barrio, a collection of short stories, is for young people of all ages.

Piri's extensive travel in Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Cuba, Mexico, Europe, and the United States has also been perceptively documented in free-lance articles by him. His eye-opening experiences have contributed to a unique globalist perspective on peace and justice so necessary in these days of international problems and conflicts.

Piri currently resides in El Cerrito, California, with his wife Suzanne Dod Thomas. He is working on a book entitled A Matter of Dignity (the sequel to Down These Mean Streets) and distributing his poetry with music, Sounds Of The Streets and No Mo' Barrio Blues. He continues to speak at universities and schools and in the community throughout the United States.



Down These Mean Streets (1967)

Savior, Savior Hold My Hand (1972) Seven Long Times (1974) Stories from El Barrio (1978)


bulletThe Official Piri Thomas Website


bulletDomínguez Miguela, Antonia.  "Views of the Barrio in Chicano and Puerto Rican Narratives"
bullet---.  "En las duras calles del Barrio: Down These Mean STreets de Piri Thomas." en Pasajes de ida y vuelta: La narrativa puertorriqueña en Estados Unidos. Huelva: Servicio de publicaciones de la Universidad de Huelva, 2005.


Works about the Author:

bulletEntry from Wikipedia

BINDER, Wolfgang.  Puerto Ricaner in New York: Volk zwischen zwei kluturen. Erlangen, Germany: Stadtische Galerie Erlangen, 1978.  "An Interview with Piri Thomas."  Minority Voices 4.1 (1980): 63-78.

bulletCaminero Santangelo, Marta.  “’Puerto Rican Negro’: Defining Race in Piri Thomas’s Down These Mean Streets.”  MELUS 29.2 (2004): 205-226

CINTRÓN, Humberto.  “Poet, Writer, a Voice for Unity: An Interview with Piri Thomas.”  Torres and Velázquez 263-279. In TORRES, Andres and Jose E. Velazquez eds.  The Puerto Rican Movement: Voices from the Diaspora.  Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1998.  * An Interview with Piri Thomas.


GARVIN, Larry. "The New World of Piri Thomas." Crisis 82.6 (1975): 196‑203.


Mohr, Eugene.  "Piri Thomas: Author and Persona." Caribbean Studies 20.2 (1980): 61‑74.


LANE, James B. "Beating the Barrio: Piri Thomas and Down These Mean Streets." English Journal 61.6 (1972): 814‑23.


LUIS, William.  Dance between two cultures : Latino Caribbean literature written in the United States.  Nashville : Vanderbilt University Press, 1997. PS153.C27 L85 1997] *  “Setting New Roots. Latino Caribbean Literature in the United States” (Habla sobre la lit. PR), "Puerto Ricans in New York: Memoirs of Bernardo Vega and Piri Thomas' Down These Mean Streets."

bulletPACIFICO, Patricia. "Piri Thomas Talks at the Inter American University." Revista / Review Interamericana 7.4 (1977‑78): 666‑73.

Sandín, Lyn Di Iorio.  Killing Spanish: Literary Essays on Ambivalent U.S. Latino/a Identity.  New york and Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Chapter 6: Melancholic Allegorists of the Street: Piri Thomas, Junot Díaz and YXta Maya Murray.

bullet"Piri Thomas." Contemporary Authors. Ed. Frances Carol Locher. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research,1978. 604-605.
bullet"Piri Thomas." Contemporary Literature Criticism. Ed. Sharon R. Gunton. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research, 1981. 497.
bullet"Piri Thomas." Dictionary of Hispanic Biography. Eds. Joseph C Tardiff and L. Mpho Mabunda. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research, 1996. 885-886.

RODRIGUEZ DE LAGUNA, Asela. “Piri Thomas’ Down These Mean Streets: Writing as a Nuyorican/Puerto Rican Strategy for Survival.” In AUGENBRAUM, Harold and Margarite Fernández Olmos (eds.).  U.S. Latino Literature: A critical Guide for Students and Teachers.  Wesport: Greenwood Press, 2000, 21-30.

bulletTHE RICAN.  “Dialogue with Piri Thomas.” 1973: 29-42.
bulletThomas, Piri. "Piri Thomas' Life and Flows." Online. Available 5 March 1999.



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 © Antonia Domínguez Miguela. Site last updated: 3 November 2015