Dos Mundos Raices: Miguel Piñero’s ‘Short Eyes’
Poet, Playwright and Actor Miguel Piñero started his criminal career at the age of 11. His first crime was stealing food for his Mother and 4 brothers and sisters to eat, he eventually landed in juvenile detention centers, boys schools and finally street gangs. Miguel was 18 when he landed in Rikers Island. After his release he joined the legendary street gang The Young Lords but somewhere along the way he picked up a drug habit. At age 25, Miguel Piñero was sent to Sing Sing Maximum Security Prison on a drug conviction, this is where he would begin his brilliant literary career.
His first work was ‘Black Woman With a Blonde Wig‘, a poem he wrote for The Family a theatre group made up of ex-cons led by Marvin Felix Camillo. Camillo would become Miguel’s mentor and helped him publish several poems, short stories and eventually a play.
‘Short Eyes‘ is Miguel Piñero’s groundbreaking play that deals with life, love, violence, addiction and death amongst prison inmates. The play would premier at Sing Sing Prison, drawing the attention of theatre critics and eventually, upon his prison release in 1973, Miguel would stage the play at the Riverside Church in Harlem. ‘Short Eyes’ became the first play written by a Puerto Rican to be staged on Broadway. It would garner 6 Tony nominations and won the New York Drama Critics Circle Awards and an Obie Award.
Miguel Piñero opened the legendary Nuyoricans Poets Cafe with a group of friends and artists and continued to write, perform and act in movies and television. In 1977, his play ‘Short Eyes’ was made into a feature film. The film was directed by Robert M. Young and even starred Miguel Piñero as ‘Go-Go’ one of the inmates (and features a killer soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield).
Miguel Piñero later moved to Los Angeles, where he would start writing for television and playing drug dealers on TV, including a memorable role as Calderon, Ricardo Tubbs’ nemesis on Miami Vice.
Miguel Piñero died in 1988 at the age of 41. His ashes were spread over the Lower East Side, as his poem of the same name had once asked…
Just once before I die
I want to climb up on a
to dream my lungs out
then scatter my ashes thru
the Lower East Side…