- Birth: Miguel Piñero was born on Dec. 19 1946 in Gurabo, in east central Puerto Rico. His birth name was Miguel Antonio Gomez Piñero. He was the oldest child of Adelina Piñero and Miguel Angel Gomez Ramos in a family with four children.
- Childhood: Since his childhood, Piñero and his family lived in poverty. His family moved to New York City—Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Shortly, his father left the family and Adelina and her children were forced out of her home. They survived on welfare. At school, Piñero was a troubled child. He was transferred to three different schools because of truancy. He learned how to survive in the tough streets as the hip youth, “Mickey.” Piñero’s early influences included his mother was a novice fiction writer and like his father, loved to tell stories. Piñero also wrote small pieces of fiction during his youth. However, his passion for fiction did not keep him from crime and drugs. In 1961, he was sent to the Otisville Training School for Boys—a reform school for troubled young men. In 1963, he committed his first major crime—burglarizing a jewelry store—and was sentenced to three years at NY prison at Rikers Island.
- Young Adult: Piñero finally got out of prison at the age of nineteen. His first hand experience at prison life informed many of his best works. However, prison has also turned him into a heroin addict and an expert at petty crime. Piñero attempted to reform. For a while, he attended a rehabilitation center and joined an anti-drug Puerto Rican gang—the Young Lords. Shortly, he relapsed into drugs and crimes to support his habit. He was sentenced to Rikers for three years for drug possession and later to the Manhattan State Hospital. He was able to earn his high school equivalency certificate in the hospital. Yet, he resorted to drugs and crime after he was released. In 1971, Piñero was sentenced to the New York State Penitentiary at Ossining (Sing Sing).
- Career: Prison provided the substance for his writing. When directors Clay Stevenson and Marvin Felix Camillo came to Sing Sing to organize a theater workshop, Piñero enlisted Camillo’s aid as a mentor. Piñero entered his poem, “Black Woman with a Blond Wig on” in a contest and won $50.00. This marked the beginning of the writer’s professional career. Camillo helped Piñero write short plays and skits. The products of the theater workshop, which included many of Piñero’s works, were performed live before inmates, prison officials and The New York Times theater critic, who gave the performance a flattering review. When he was paroled, Piñero joined the Family at the Theatre of Riverside Church—a theater troupe composed of ex-convicts and ex-drug addicts. In 1974, Short Eyes, a play about the prisoners’ reaction to a child molester, was performed and received critical acclaim from New York’s theater elite. Later, Short Eyes was performed off-Broadway for the public. The play received honors from the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and was nominated for an Obie and Tony in the same year. In addition to his theatrical fame and financial successes, the academic elite also recognized Piñero. For example, he was invited to speak at Princeton, Rutgers and Pratt Institute. Piñero turned his attention to mentoring young Puerto Rican youth. He turned his apartment into an informal outreach center for at-risk youths. He mentored him in writing and was determined to increase their self-confidence as “Nuyoricans,” or Puerto Ricans living as racialized and impoverished minorities in New York. He also opened a Nuyorican Café and co-created an anthology of Nuyorican poetry. He recruited a group of hustler youths to perform Subculture. Piñero continued to get into trouble with the law, but now, he was financially able to extricate himself from them. In 1975, Piñero played the part of God in Steambath by Bruce Jay Friedman in Philadelphia. In the city of brotherly love, Piñero wrote Eulogy for a Small Time Thief, which was played by the N.Y Ensemble Studio Theater off-Broadway. Piñero wrote the screenplay for Short Eyes, which became a film. He also acted in it as a child-molesting drug pusher. Piñero wrote his least recognized play, The Sun Always Shines for the Cool, which was performed by NY’s 78th Street Theatre Lab in 1978. Though Piñero never projected the image of a family man, he married Juanita Lovette Rameize and adopted a son, Ismael Castro with her in 1977 (Rossini 242). Unfortunately, the marriage did not last and they divorced in 1979. Piñero moved to Los Angeles and created The One Act Theater Festival, which showcased Guntower, Paper Toilet, and Cold Beer. He also began writing for a new medium—television. He wrote two screenplays for Baretta and played an undercover narcotics officer in one episode and also acted in Kojak. He screen roles seem limited to that “characters” he played in real-life, such as a drug dealer in Fort Apache and The Bronx (1980), and as con man in Breathless, Exposed, and Deal of the Century (all 1983), and The Pick-Up Artist (1987). Poetry was also the writer’s medium for self-expression. Piñero compiled his poems in La Bodega Sold Dreams and published it.
- Death: On June 17,1988, Piñero died in New York City. One of his last plays was A Midnight Moon at the Greasy Spoon (1981), which received mixed reviews from critics. In December 2001, Leon Ichaso made a movie about the writer, entitled Piñero. To many, the film commemorated the lifelong accomplishments of the nation’s most important Puerto Rican American writers.
by Mingzhao Xu