Cuban-American novelist Oscar Hijuelos, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1989 novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love died on Saturday, according to his agent, Jennifer Lyons.
Hijuelos’ work often talked of the loss and triumphs of the Cuban immigrant experience. Lyons explained that the novelist was playing tennis in Manhattan when he suffered a fatal heart attack, reports USA Today.
The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love tells the story of two Cuban brothers who take a trip from Havana to New York to start an orchestra. The book was eventually turned into a movie starring Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas.
The novel became a best seller and helped Hijuelos win international acclaim. It also helped Oscar Hijuelos earn the Pulitzer for fiction in 1990, the first Hispanic writer to receive the honor.
The Associated Press notes that Hijuelos was born and raised in New York City, though he traveled to Cuba as a child. He enrolled in local community colleges, where he was encouraged by several writing teachers to pursue his gift. He was exposed to several Cuban and Latin American writers, whose work inspired him.
In his memoir, Thoughts Without Cigarettes, which was published in 2011, Hijuelos recalled his struggle at being labeled an “ethnic” writer. He spoke about how, even today, there are few other Latinos whose work has been awarded the same recognition he has seen, despite the number of talented authors.
Hijuelos also wrote about his struggle to embrace his story and that of his family to use as a source of inspiration for his characters. He explained that he was too ashamed to put them on paper, thinking the world didn’t care about his tale. His other novels include Dark Dude, Our House in the Last World, and Empress of the Splendid Season.
No funeral arrangements were announced for Oscar Hijuelos.
[Image via Wikimedia Commons]