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
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.
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
||Stories from El
Works about the Author:
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
|Caminero Santangelo, Marta. “’Puerto Rican Negro’: Defining
Race in Piri Thomas’s Down These Mean Streets.” MELUS 29.2
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
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."
|PACIFICO, Patricia. "Piri Thomas Talks at the Inter American
University." Revista / Review Interamericana 7.4 (1977‑78):
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.
|"Piri Thomas." Contemporary Authors. Ed. Frances Carol
Locher. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research,1978. 604-605.|
|"Piri Thomas." Contemporary Literature Criticism. Ed. Sharon
R. Gunton. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research, 1981. 497.|
|"Piri Thomas." Dictionary of Hispanic Biography. Eds. Joseph
C Tardiff and L. Mpho Mabunda. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research,
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
Wesport: Greenwood Press, 2000, 21-30.
|THE RICAN. “Dialogue with Piri Thomas.” 1973: 29-42.
|Thomas, Piri. "Piri Thomas' Life and Flows." Online.
http://www.cheverote.com/bio.htm 5 March 1999.|