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EVERY CHILD IS BORN A POET: The Life and Work of Piri Thomas

The Poems

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Piri Thomas | Poetry & Spoken Word | The Puerto Rican Diaspora | Prison Writing | Sources

Piri Thomas

The Official Piri Thomas Website
Fine out more about Thomas’ “life and flows”: read his essays on prison and Puerto Rican history, download audio samples of his poetry and view a photo gallery with eight-plus decades of pictures.

“It Seems to Me…”
Read a three-part interview with Piri Thomas from In Motion magazine.

MELUS: An Interview
Thomas talks about reading, writing and fear in this interview with MELUS, the quarterly journal published by the Society for the Study of Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States.

MOSAEC: Down These Mean Streets
An essay on how Thomas’ novel impacted one young reader, who also grew up in El Barrio.

Random House: Down These Mean Streets
Educators can download a teacher’s guide with discussion questions from the publisher of Thomas’ classic book.

Down These Mean Streets
By Piri Thomas

(Vintage, 1997—reprint edition)
First published in 1967, this autobiographic novel is still heralded for its groundbreaking bilingual style and its realistic portrayal of youth, imprisonment and search for racial identity.

Savior, Savior Hold My Hand
By Piri Thomas
(Doubleday, 1972)
The sequel to Down These Mean Streets, Thomas’ second novel details his release from prison, work as a youth violence prevention counselor and reunion with his father.

Seven Long Times
By Piri Thomas
(Preager, 1974)
Thomas’ account of his seven years in state prison for armed robbery and attempted murder.

Stories from El Barrio
By Piri Thomas
(Knopf, 1978)
A collection of short stories about life in East Harlem for “children of all ages.”

Poetry & Spoken Word

National Poetry Month
April is National Poetry Month. Started by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, NPM celebrates poetry and its vital place in American culture. Search online for your favorite poets and listen to readings of their poems.

Poetic License
Browse the Web site for this documentary on young spoken word poets. Check out the online poetry journal or look for a youth poetry event near you.

Poetology Online
Search for readings and events in a city near you, watch poetry performances and listen to WSWO—streaming radio that’s “spoken word only.”

Nuyorican Poets Café
Find out more about this famous arts organization and performance space, which has been nurturing and exhibiting work by underrepresented artists for over three decades.

Aloud! Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café
Edited by Miguel Algarín, Bob Holman and Nicole Blackman

(Owl Books,1994)
An anthology of works by leading spoken word poets, including Piri Thomas.

The Spoken Word Revolution
Edited by Mark Eleveld, narrated by Marc Kelly Smith

(Sourcebooks, 2003) A collection of written and performed works by some of today’s most influential performance artists, with an accompanying CD.

The Puerto Rican Diaspora

El Museo del Barrio
Founded in 1969 by Puerto Rican educators, artists and activists in New York City’s Spanish Harlem, El Museo remains one of the New York’s leading Latino cultural institutions. Learn more about its programs, exhibits and history.

Centro de Estudios Puertrorriqueños
Dedicated to the study of the Puerto Rican experience in the United States, this New York-based research center also holds the world’s only repository of archival and library materials dedicated exclusively to the Puerto Rican diaspora.

Puerto Rico and the American Dream
Find out more about the history, culture and politics of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican diaspora: view and hear oral histories, browse timelines and profiles and visit the photo gallery.

Almost a Woman
Adapted from Esmeralda Santiago’s memoir Almost a Woman, this film tells the story of a young Puerto Rican girl growing up in New York City during the 1960s. Read timelines, poems, essays and interviews.

Puerto Rican Independence Party
Founded in 1946, the Party is “committed to achieving Puerto Rico's national freedom and laying the foundation for a sound, responsible transition from our present day colonial government to full-fledged independence.”

The Latino Reader
Edited by Harold Augenbraum and Margarite Fernández Olmos

(Mariner Books, 1997)
A collection of literary, autobiographical and nonfiction works from Latino writers in the United States, from the sixteenth century to the present.

Boricuas: Influential Puerto Rican Writing
Edited by Robert Santiago

(One World/Ballantine, 1995)
Fifty selections of nineteenth- and twentieth-century fiction, poetry, plays and speeches written by Puerto Rican authors in America, including Piri Thomas.

In Search of Respect
By Philippe Bourgois

(Cambridge University Press, 2002)
An ethnographic look at drug addiction and street culture in El Barrio, this book offers an analysis of the economic pressures many Nuyorican young men face in the neighborhood.

From Bomba to Hip-Hop: Puerto Rican Culture and Latino Identity
By Juan Flores

(Columbia University Press, 2000)
Flores looks at the uniqueness of Puerto Rican culture and identity through examples in music, literature, architecture and politics.

Prison Writing

Reentry National Media Outreach Campaign
As part of a national education and outreach campaign regarding the prisoner reentry process, this site also features info on relevant resources and documentaries, including an outreach guide for EVERY CHILD IS BORN A POET.

The Beat Within
This weekly publication showcases writings and art from youth in juvenile delinquent facilities. Check out creative work on themes ranging from family and freedom to gangs and guns.

P.O.V.: What I Want My Words To Do To You
Learn more about a writing group at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility led by playwright and activist Eve Ensler, the prison writing community that it created and the stories its members shared.

Prison Writing: In 20th Century America
Edited by H. Bruce Franklin

(Penguin, 1998)
A collection of writing about life in prison, ranging from an indentured slave’s 1904 memoirs to pieces by Mumia Abu-Jamal and Piri Thomas.

Hearts and Hands: Creating Community in Violent Times
By Luis J. Rodriguez

(Seven Stories Press, 2003)
Part memoir, part manifesto, this former gang member-turned-youth educator writes about approaches to youth violence and peace making.

Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America
By Geoffrey Canada

(Beacon Press, 1996)
Educator and activist Canada, founder of the Harlem Peacemakers Program, shares accounts from his own childhood and examines the culture of violence.

Manchild in the Promised Land
By Claude Brown

(Touchstone, 1995)
This classic coming-of-age autobiographical novel details Brown’s childhood in Central Harlem during the 1940s and ‘50s, incarceration in juvenile facilities and eventual release.

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