When I was a baby librarian at the New York Public Library, Piri Thomas’s DOWN THESE MEAN STREETS came out and was always a problem – in the sense that we could NEVER have enough copies to keep up with the demand!  It just flew off off the shelves – and frequently never came back.  Down through the decades it has proved to be one of those touchstone books like NIGHT or HOUSE ON MANGO STREET and I point out that for any baby librarians of today that might not have read it, it’s still in print (978-0-679-78142-4, Vintage) and widely used in high schools and in colleges. 

I met Thomas once at a REFORMA conference and got the impression that while he wasn’t the easiest person to be around, he certainly knew himself and what he stood for.  He made a difference.

Marcia Purcell

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piri thomas

Obituary Note: Piri Thomas  (from Shelf Awareness, 10/20/11)


Piri Thomas, poet, novelist and author of the 1967 memoir Down These Mean Streets, about growing up in Spanish Harlem, died on Monday at age 83.

The New York Times noted that the memoir became a bestseller and “a staple on high school and college reading lists … as Americans seemed to be awakening to the rough cultures that poverty and racism were breeding in cities.”
The memoir also influenced other writers. Poet Martin Espada told the Times, “Because he became a writer, many of us became writers. Before Down These Mean Streets, we could not find a book by a Puerto Rican writer in the English language about the experience of that community, in that voice, with that tone and subject matter.”

In Memorium: Marcia Purcell remembers Piri Thomas

Category: Musings

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