Twenty-two years after his death, the collected writings of the great Miguel Piñero are finally back in print. Best known for his award-winning play Short Eyes
, the influential Nuyorican poet, playwright, and actor had a short yet remarkable life. Emigrating from his native Puerto Rico to Manhattan's Lower East Side (Loisaida) when he was four, much of Piñero's life was marked by repeated criminal convictions (his first coming at the age of 11). By his mid 20s, Piñero had served prison time for armed robbery and drug offenses, and, in 1972, while held at Sing Sing correctional facility, he wrote his first poem. As a participant of a writing workshop during his incarceration, he wrote Short Eyes
, an unabashed and powerful drama about prison life and inmate hierarchy, though would not see it performed in a proper theater until the year after he was paroled in 1973. Short Eyes
would go on to a Broadway stage and garner numerous accolades including six Tony nominations, an Obie award, and a New York Critics' Circle Award for best American play.
Outlaw: The Collected Works of Miguel Piñero
is a gorgeous volume compiling all of the late writer's literary output. In addition to the 18 poems that comprised his sole poetry collection, La Bodega Sold Dreams
features 20 previously unpublished poems (a dozen from the Bodega
cycle, as well as eight others). Each of the 10 plays Piñero completed before succumbing to cirrhosis in 1988 are also included herein (Short Eyes
, the three works originally featured in The Sun Always Shines for the Cool
, and the six short pieces found in Outrageous One-Act Plays
). For those unfamiliar with Piñero's writing or the often contrasting complexities of his life, two outstanding introductory essays (one on his drama, the other on his poetry) provide a scholarly context to the thematic elements and cultural relevance of his work.
Although Piñero's oeuvre may seem, to some, too small to warrant serious attention, his influence on Hispanic drama and poetry cannot be understated. Employing densely idiomatic language to illustrate a subculture alien to many (if not most), Piñero's writing is startlingly honest and astute, surely anything but subtle. His poems and plays convey the grittiness of urban living (rife with the drugs, crime, sex, prostitutes, pimps, and violence he knew all too well) with an unapologetic clarity that would make many a high-class, insular city dweller entirely uncomfortable. His work deftly considers the hazards, hypocrisies, temptations, exploitations, offenses, affronts, and indignities that he and other marginalized individuals are forced to endure on a daily basis. The shimmering opulence of Manhattan may not have reflected quite as far as the Lower East Side, but its degrading and demeaning aftereffects surely did. Piñero was more documentarian than activist, and his helplessness in the face of oppression (be it racism, capitalism, the prison system, etc.) did little to stifle his creative charge. As a chronicler of the street life that claimed so many, Piñero's writing stands as refutation of a society that so effortlessly sweeps so many to the gutter. Although much of Piñero's work is bold and provocative, his anger and frustration never seem all-consuming, even yielding to unexpected moments of humor and empathy.
That a young, Puerto Rican thief, junkie, and ex-convict went from maximum security prison to award-winning playwright and Guggenheim Fellowship recipient is itself an intriguing drama. As the definitive biographical account of his life has yet to be written, this collection must serve as the sole evidence of the brilliant, tragic, and troubled talent that was Miguel "Mikey" Piñero. Outlaw
is a long overdue and much-deserved collection, one that shall rightly allow the import and intensity of his creativity to endure.
From the afterword:
From Francois Villon to Jean Genet, Miguel belongs to a tradition of writers whose devious and renegade lives paradoxically result in the most painstaking devotion to the truth and rigor of their craft. All dramatists of real value must sooner or later confront what for them is truly dangerous, either within themselves or in the outside world. That we the audience feel that danger and understand something of what it is about is often what makes a play important and durable. If the life of Miguel seems illusive and troubling, one can only applaud what is so candidly engaged here by his art, where very little is stolen or borrowed and a great deal is revealed. In this sense Miguel Piñero is as blessed and as straight a writer as they come. Recommended By Jeremy G., Powells.com