Miguel Antonio Gomez Piñero (peen-YEHR-oh) is an important member of the Nuyorican (New York and Puerto Rican) literary and political movement that crystallized in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in New York City. Born in Puerto Rico, Piñero moved to New York City with his parents when he was four. His father, Miguel Angel Piñero, abandoned the family four years later, and Piñero subsequently experienced the poverty, marginalization, and crime of New York’s lower East Side. Piñero remained devoted to his mother, Adelina, as his poems and opening dedication to Short Eyes (“El Cumpleaños de Adelina” by Miguel Algarín) reveal.
At an early age, Piñero fell victim to his harsh environment: he began “hustling” and taking drugs and soon entered the world of petty crime that was to shape his future. A truant, shoplifter, and drug addict by his teenage years, Piñero never graduated from junior high. He was convicted of armed robbery at age twenty-four and was sent to Sing Sing, the notorious New York prison. Ironically, it was in prison that Piñero experienced his literary awakening, thanks to a theater workshop established at Sing Sing by Clay Stevenson. Like that of most Nuyorican authors, Piñero’s experience as a marginalized Puerto Rican in America was to become the source for much of his literary output.
Through Stevenson’s prison workshop, Piñero began his first and most recognized play, Short Eyes. In addition, while still in prison he came into contact with Marvin Felix Camillo, actor and activist, who had formed The Family, an acting troupe of former inmates, and who encouraged Piñero’s writing and acting. Out of prison, Piñero worked with Camillo and The Family to develop Short Eyes for performance. The play moved from its opening in the Riverside Church to Off-Broadway, to the Public Theater with the help of producer Joseph Papp, and finally to the Vivian Beaumont Theater. Piñero received an Obie Award and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best American play.
Piñero’s success in playwriting put him in contact with the thriving Puerto Rican literary and political community. In the...
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