The New York Times on October 19, 2011, had the sad news:
Piri Thomas, the writer and poet whose 1967 memoir, “Down These Mean Streets,” chronicled his tough childhood in Spanish Harlem and the outlaw years that followed and became a classic portrait of ghetto life, died on Monday at his home in El Cerrito, Calif. He was 83...
The memoir, a best seller and eventually a staple on high school and college reading lists, appeared as Americans seemed to be awakening to the rough cultures that poverty and racism were breeding in cities. A new literary genre had cropped up to explore those conditions, in books like “Manchild in the Promised Land,” by Claude Brown, and “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”
“Down These Mean Streets” joined that list. The memoir, Mr. Thomas wrote on his Web site, had “exploded out of my guts in an outpouring of long suppressed hurts and angers that had boiled over into an ice-cold rage.”
The novelist Daniel Stern, reviewing the book in The New York Times, called it “another stanza in the passionate poem of color and color-hatred being written today.”
Denise Oliver Velez has written a lovely remembrance of him.
He will be sorely missed.