Piri Thomas was one of the first second generation Puerto Rican writers of the diaspora to publish an autobiographical novel about his experiences as a Puerto Rican mulatto, born and raised in New York's El Barrio (Spanish Harlem) during the years of the Great Depression. His parents met in
His first novel, Down These Mean Streets (1967) is an autobiographical narrative of the vicissitudes of a young Puerto Rican man growing up in the harsh streets of
Piri Thomas' novels are linked to the self-destructive behavior of his youth. He was a member of a gang, developed a serious addiction to drugs, and was involved in criminal activities that led to seven years of imprisonment because of his participation in an armed robbery at a night club. These experiences and his difficult rehabilitation and search for a more productive life after his release from prison also are central to his writing. He began to write when he was still an inmate at Comstock correctional facility.
Upon gaining his freedom, he received a scholarship from the Rabinowitz Foundation that allowed him the time to revise his writings, and, shortly thereafter he published Down These Mean Streets. Thomas' second novel, Savior, Savior, Hold My Hand (1972), is a sequel that covers the difficult period that followed his release from prison and his efforts to turn his life around. His third novel, Seven Long Times (1974), chronicles the seven years the author spent in the dehumanizing environment of the
Thomas has also written poems and plays. For many years he has been a free lance writer, active in the lecture circuit and discussing his work with different audiences. Many of his presentations are aimed at motivating youth. He uses his own experiences to persuade young people to avoid vices and self-destructive behavior while also carrying a message of love, personal dignity, and self-affirmation. In his CD's Sounds of the Streets (1994) and No Mo' Barrio Blues (1996), the author recites his poems accompanied by music. Most of his plays are still unpublished. His play, The Golden Streets, was produced by the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater in 1970. The television documentary The World of Piri Thomas (1968), narrated by the author, offers a dramatic rendering of the harsh realities of barrio life already portrayed in Down These Mean Streets, and how the author's spirit of survival and creative power turned the mistakes of his youth into a personal triumph. Another more recent documentary, Every Child is a Poet: The Life and Work of Piri Thomas (2005), sponsored by the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), focuses on the ways in which the author was able to transform his life to become the well-known writer that he is today, determined to serve his community and be a source of inspiration to the new generations.
After several years living in Puerto Rico, Piri Thomas moved to
Autor: Dra. Edna Acosta Bel
Published: January 28, 2010.