Miguel Piñero [DRAFT]
Piñero, Miguel (b. 19 December 1946; d. 16 June 1988), poet, playwright, actor.
Born in Puerto Rico, Piñero migrated to New York City with his family as a child. One of seven children, Piñero was seven when his father walked out on his mother.
Life was hard for Piñero. Growing up poor on the streets of New York and suffering from sexual abuse, he turned to drugs and became a mugger, thief and shoplifter. Piñero later spent five years in Sing Sing for armed robbery. It was here that he met Marvin Felix Camillo, who was running a drama workshop.
The talented people Camillo found at Sing Sing would later become The Family, an acting troupe of ex-cons of whom Piñero was the most successful. Camillo and Piñero became friends and it was Camillo who submitted Piñero’s poem, “Black Woman with the Blonde Wig On,” in a contest which it won.
Piñero’s first and most successful play was Short Eyes. Short Eyes tells the story of men trapped in a prison system with its own code of conduct and laws, and how they survive. The climax of the play is the murder of Clark Davis, the incarcerated child molester. In the prison hierarchy, sexual offenders are considered the lowest of the low, and Clark’s death is carried out with brutal efficiency. The character Cupcakes, youthful and handsome, is the prize desired by the love-starved men.
Short Eyes opened on May 23, 1974 and was produced by the New York Shakespeare Festival, with Joseph Papp as producer and Camillo directing. Many of the cast was members of The Family. Short Eyes won the Obie for the best play of 1973-1974, and Camillo won for distinguished direction. That same year, Short Eyes won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best American play.
Piñero became friends with Miguel Algarin, another Nuyorican poet. Together they founded the Nuyorican Poets Café on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The marginalization of poor people of color, excluded from the mainstream American artistic community served the political focus for their creative voices. The Nuyorican Poets Café was born of the political radicalism of the 1960s, and the café has served as a laboratory for cultural and political art. Piñero’s poetry influenced many other artists. Piñero is cited as being a forerunner to rap and hip-hop music. In 1993, the Nuyorican Poets Café was recognized by the Municipal Society of New York as one of the “living treasures” of the city. It is still at the heart of poetic life in New York City.
Many of Piñero’s characters blurr the line between gay and straight. Paper Toilet takes place in a subway toilet and deals in part with characters cruising. Irving deals with the coming out of a closeted Jewish man—and the discovery that he and his sister have been dating the same man.
Piñero was a commercial success, writing plays and television scripts for series like Kojak and Miami Vice. He also starred in television episodes of Miami Vice and The Equalizer as well as movies, among them The Streets of L.A. (1979), Fort Apache the Bronx (1981), Breathless (1984) In the movie adaptation of Short Eyes (1977), Piñero played the minor character of Go-Go.
Even with all his success, Piñero remained a heroin addict. (He used to scalp tickets to Short Eyes for money with which to buy heroin.) He continued an on-and-off life of crime, and was arrested periodically. Piñero died in New York City from liver disease in 1988. His friend Algarin led the procession in which Piñero’s ashes were scattered across the Lower East Side. He then read Piñero’s poem that was written for the occasion of his death.
Miguel Piñero was bisexual. Many of the characters in his plays were sexually ambiguous. However, it is doubtful that he identified in any way with the gay and lesbian community. The Latin idea of machismo (super-masculinity), what every man aspires to be, may have caused tension in Piñero’s life. The idea of being passive during sex challenges masculinity. Gay identity takes into account both roles—something which Piñero might have found objectionable.
Perhaps actor Benjamin Bratt’s assessment of Piñero is the most realistic. Bratt played the complex Piñero in Piñero and concluded that Piñero was a sensualist: Piñero would indulge in whatever felt good to him at that particular moment. To be labeled gay or bisexual would have had little meaning to Piñero.
There is no full-length biography of Piñero. The 2001 movie is based on Miguel Piñero’s life. Actor Dadi Piñero is his brother.
Michael W. Handis
See also Latino Studies; Migration, Immigration, and Diaspora; Gloria Anzaldua; Jose Sarria; Reinaldo Arenas; Cherrie Moraga; Syliva Rivera; John Rechy; Race and Racism; Puerto Rico; Edgar Poma; Rodrigo Reyes; Francisco Alarcon; Arturo Islas; Juanita Diaz-Cotto; Jeanne Cordova; Zulma; Valerie Solanas.
Duralde, Alonso. “Unspoiled Bratt.” The Advocate 2/5/2002, issue 858, p. 40-45.
Piñero, Miguel. Outrageous: One Act Plays. Houston: Arte Publico Press, 1986.
Piñero, Miguel. Short Eyes: a Play. New York: Hill and Wang, 1975.
Piñero. Miramax Films and Greenwood Films. 2001.
Cruz-Malave, Arnaldo. “Teaching Puerto Rican Authors: Identity and Modernization in Nyorican Texts.” ADE Bulletin, 91 (1988): 45-51.
Cruz-Malave, Arnaldo. “Toward an Art of Transvestism: Colonialism and Homosexuality in Puerto Rican Literature.” Bergmann and Smith, 137-67.
Cruz-Malave, Arnaldo. “’What a Tangled Web!’: Masculinity, Abjection, and the Foundations of Puerto Rican Literature in the United States.” Differences: a Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, 8.1 (1996): 132-151.
Mohr, Eugene. The Nuyorican Experience: Literature of the Puerto Rican Minoirty. Westport: Greenwood, 1982.
Nuyroican Poets Café web site, http://www.nuyorican.org/. (Checked April 28, 2003).
Zimmerman, Marc. U.S. Latino Literature: an Essay and Annotated Bibliography. Chicago: March/Arbazo, 1992.