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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, CA surrounded by his loving wife, Suzie, his children and caregivers, after succumbing to pneumonia.


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) maybe 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.


For more information, please e-mail:

Suzie Dod Thomas at  

or view his website,

No phone calls, please.