In 1972, when Piñero was 25 years old, he was incarcerated in Sing Sing prison for second-degree armed robbery. His first literary work was Black Woman with a Blonde Wig On. Marvin Felix Camillo, the director of The Family, an acting troupe made up of ex-cons, submitted the poem to a contest, which it won. The warden of Sing Sing then became concerned that "contraband" was being taken from the prison and nearly put Camillo in jail after seeing an article in the newspaper. While serving time in prison, he wrote the play Short Eyes as part of the inmates playwriting workshop. Mel Gussow came to see it, and due to his review in the New York Times, the director of the Theater at Riverside Church wanted Piñero to put it up at his place.
When he left Sing Sing due to parole in 1973, he was able to put Short Eyes with The Family. The title comes from the slang for pornography "short heist." Puerto Ricans could not pronounce the 'h' so it became "short eyes." The play is a drama based on his experiences in prison and portrays life, love and death among prison inmates. In 1974, the play was presented at Riverside Church in Manhattan. Theater impresario Joseph Papp saw the play and was so impressed that he moved the production to Broadway. It went from Riverside Church, then to The Public Theater, eventually to Vivian Beaumont Theatre. The play was nominated for six Tony Awards. It won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and an Obie Award for the "best play of the year". The play was also a success in Europe. It catapulted Piñero to literary fame. Short Eyes was published in book form by the editorial house Hill & Wang. It became the first play written by a Puerto Rican to be put on Broadway.
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