The Passing of Piri Thomas 1928-2011

Beloved Puerto Rican-American author and poet Piri Thomas died Monday, October 17, 2011, in his home in El Cerrito, California surrounded by his loving family.

Born September 30, 1928, in Harlem Hospital, 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. He was sincere and generous to a fault.

He is survived by his wife, Suzie Dod Thomas, of El Cerrito, CA, six children, Peter Stacker of Chicago, Ricardo Thomas and SanDee Thomas of Orlando, FL, Raina Thomas and Tanee Thomas of Columbia, SC, and Renee Shank of Seattle; and 7 grandchildren, Megan, Brenann and Eryn Stacker, AJ Linares, Arielle and Kristen Thomas, and Sahali Shively, three stepchildren, Michael and Laura Olenick of NY, and David Elder of Los Angeles, and two step granchildren, Jacob and Lily Olenick.

The family requests no flowers or gifts. Written sentiments may be sent to or 2503 Edwards Ave. El Cerrito, CA 94530. Tax deductible donations (payable to Social Justice, earmarked for the Piri Thomas Fund) may be made in his name and sent to:

Piri Thomas Memorial Fund
C/O Social Justice/Global Options
PO Box 40601
San Francisco, CA 94140

To date, memorials are being planned for the Bay Area, New York, and Orlando, Florida. Dates to be announced.

[Many thanks to David Labiosa for bringing this item to our attention.]

For more information, please e-mail Suzie Dod Thomas at or view the website

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3 thoughts on “The Passing of Piri Thomas 1928-2011

  1. justtryingtokir reblogged this on justtryingtokir and commented: I wasn’t planning on writing anything until tomorrow but I came across a piece on one of the blogs I follow about the passing of one of my favorite authors. Piri Thomas was one of the rare writers that I appreciated in high school. In a time when I slowly was losing my joy of reading, his book “Down These Mean Streets” stuck as an open and revealing memoir of his life. I rather quickly saw the parallels in our lives at that moment. I think we were both cultural refugees in a city that boxes oneself into defining who you are, and subsequently fighting to feel comfortable in your own shoes.
    It didn’t take me long to find the book today, and to remember the seemingly movie-like antics that was his life in his young adulthood. I also remembered the way it made me appreciate the importance of language, of being to express one’s thoughts and feelings to someone else and be understood. And that feeling I still hold as fresh in my memory as when I first had the book, constantly trying to find meaning from the ubiquitious slang that riddles his story, but also my own. To say what one means is so much more important that speaking “good English” and I treasure his book for reminding me of this. Rest in Peace Mr. Thomas.

    Until next time,

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