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Piri Thomas

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.