Oscar Hijuelos, the author best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love,” died Sunday, his publisher Gotham confirmed. Hijuelos was 62 and died in New York.
The 1989 novel “The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love” told the story of two Cuban brothers who emigrated to New York to try to make it as musicians in the 1950s. When the book won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Hijuelos became the first Latino writer to be awarded that prize.
The book was also made into 1992 film, “The Mambo Kings,” starring Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas, which was nominated for an Academy Award for best song.
The New York-born son of Cuban immigrants, Hijuelos was raised in a vibrant multicultural neighborhood. He attended the City College of New York, where he took classes from Susan Sontag and Donald Barthelme. En route to his first visit with Barthelme, he walked past the offices of three legendary writers: Joseph Heller, William S. Burroughs and Francine du Plessix Gray.
In his 2011 memoir “Thoughts without Cigarettes,” Hijuelos recalled what it was like to be an aspiring Latino writer in the 1970s. “[I]t was a very rare thing to see published work by any members of that primitive tribe from our urban jungles known as los Latinos,” he wrote. “I thought it would be years before I could write anything worthwhile. Even then, who out there would publish it?”
In addition to the Pulitzer, Hijuelos was the recipient of a number of prestigious literary awards, including the Rome Prize and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.