Beloved Puerto Rican-American Author Piri Thomas Passes Away

Beloved Puerto Rican-American author and poet Piri Thomas passed away last week in his home in El Cerrito, CA, surrounded by his loving family.

Thomas was born September 30, 1928, in New York City, of a Puerto Rican mother and Cuban father. His early years were documented in 1967 in his bestselling book, Down These Mean Streets, for which he was best known.

He later wrote two other novels, Savior Savior Hold My Hand and Seven Long Times, several plays (The Golden Streets and Ole Ole Oy Vey), a book of short stories (Stories from El Barrio) , many poems, and recorded two CDs of poetry and music (Sounds of the Streets and No Mo’ Barrio Blues). Three award-winning films (Petey and Johnny, The World of Piri Thomas, and Every Child is Born a Poet) were made about him.

He spoke and performed at countless events at colleges, high schools, middle schools, senior centers, community gatherings, political rallies for peace and justice causes, and many more, while encouraging a whole generation of young people to be socially responsible in their career choices, and to write and perform poetry, which subsequently birthed the new wave of “spoken word” that has appeared throughout the country. His intuitive grasp of identity, race, and class issues inspired everyone he touched as his ideas were grounded in his moral authority and personal sense of dignity.

You can read more about Piri Thomas on his personal website. There are excerpts of his poetry, as well as samples of his “flows,” which are readings of poetry to the beat of Latin jazz, Caribbean and gospel music.

The UIUC Libraries hold several of Thomas’ works including his three novels.


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