While serving a prison sentence, Piri Thomas (1928- ) decided to turn his life
around and began writing his autobiography as a step toward accomplishing that goal.
For him, writing became a tool for discovering his real nature and depicting his Puerto
Rican and African-American heritage honestly. After his release from prison, Thomas
suffered a severe setback--the manuscript he had labored over for four years was
accidentally destroyed. Choosing to begin writing his autobiography anew, he spent
more than five years in completing the work. When Down These Mean Streets was
finally published in 1967, critics praised its power and honesty as well as its creative
use of language and imagery.
Both Down These Mean Streets and Thomas's short stories are set in "El Barrio,"
the Puerto Rican community in New York City where Thomas grew up. His writing, which
draws upon his memories of his experiences in Spanish Harlem, celebrates his people's
vitality, strength, and determination.