Piri Thomas, the Puerto Rican writer whose birth name was John Peter Thomas, died in his home on Monday, Oct. 17 at the age of 83 due to complications from pneumonia, according to The New York Times.
The Spanish Harlem native wrote an iconic memoir called Down Those Mean Streets in 1967, which helped shed light on what is was like growing up as a poor kid of color in New York for generations to come. Thomas wrote that the book, “exploded out of my guts in an outpouring of long suppressed hurts and angers that had boiled over into an ice-cold rage.” The memoir went on to gain accolades as a best seller and became part of the curriculum for high school and college reading lists. His honesty regarding his experience with poverty and racism inspired a thousands.
He was born on Sept. 30, 1928 in Harlem Hospital, the only dark-skinned offspring of seven children born to a Puerto Rican mother, Dolores Montañez and a Cuban father, Juan Tomás de la Cruz. Feeling like an outsider within his own household had a lasting effect on Thomas, who turned to drugs and violence to deal with his feelings of rejection.
Eventually, hi dangerous lifestyle landed him in jail for a seven-year stint. There, he had finally finished his GED and began writing. His work became revolutionary for other young Latino men facing similar circumstances in urban environments.
He is survived by his wife Suzie Dod Thomas, two sons, four daughters, three stepchildren, seven grandchildren, and two step-grandchildren.