Very sad to hear of the passing of Piri, a genuinely sweet man whose first book, Down These Means Streets, was definitive during my youth.Back when we were called “minorities,” the stories in that book legitimized our lives in literature.
As a curious kid who grew up down the mean street from housing projects like those Piri wrote about, I had to walk secretly to get a chair that raised me high enough to reach the shelf where Piri’s book and the Autobiography of Malcolm X were hidden. These books were placed high on the shelf by my siblings and parents, who didn’t want 11 year-old me learning those “malas palabras” (bad words) filling those pages.
My siblings and parents got it wrong: Piri’s words pulled and raised us up like the chair so that we could see the Good, and have some sense of our true stature; His words were magical words written by a writer and committed soul whose journey from the grit & soul of Down These Mean Streets to the mellifluously sweet play captured in Every Child is Born a Poet touched this Word Wanderer Child forever. Gracias, Piri. Gracias, Companero. Piri Thomas, Presente!