In This Article Oscar Hijuelos

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • General Critical Works on Cuban American Literature
  • Interviews
  • Critical Works on Hijuelos
  • Dark Dude
  • Beautiful Maria of My Soul
  • Thoughts Without Cigarettes: A Memoir
  • Twain and Stanley Enter Paradise

Latino Studies Oscar Hijuelos
by
Gustavo Pérez-Firmat
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0098

Introduction

One of the best-known and most successful Latino writers, Oscar Hijuelos (b. 1951–d. 2013) was the first writer of Hispanic background to receive a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. A second-generation Cuban American, he wrote in English about his parents’ lost Cuban world and the feelings of displacement and nostalgia inherited from them. His characters were often immigrants who faced problems of assimilation and identity as they tried to meet the demands of the new culture while holding on to their Cuban heritage. Born in 1951 in New York City, Hijuelos grew up in the Morningside Heights neighborhood that he re-creates in many of his novels. His working-class parents spoke Spanish at home and maintained contact with their relatives in Cuba. A serious illness contracted during a visit to the island kept the four-year-old Oscar hospitalized for over a year. When he recovered and returned home, he was no longer able to speak Spanish. Hijuelos said that losing his fluency estranged him from his family and culture but gave him the distance that allowed him to observe and write about the lives and challenges of Cubans in the United States. Hijuelos frequently spoke about the conundrum of being categorized by the public and the publishing industry as a Latino who wrote “ethnic” or “immigrant” literature, while at the same time facing criticism from Hispanic readers who thought his novels not “Latino” enough. In the decades since Hijuelos’s The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (1989), many Latino writers have acknowledged their debt to him for helping to open the doors of the publishing industry for them, and it can be said that Hijuelos’s work has moved from the ethnic niche in which it was originally placed into the canon of American literature. In addition to receiving the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1990 for The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, Hijuelos also received the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Rome Prize (1985), the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature (2000), and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2011. Hijuelos’s works include eight novels, Our House in the Last World (1983), The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (1989), The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O’Brien (1993), Mr. Ives’ Christmas (1995), Empress of the Splendid Season (1999), A Simple Habana Melody (From When the World Was Good) (2002), Dark Dude (2008), Beautiful Maria of My Soul (2010), and a memoir, Thoughts Without Cigarettes (2011), which was the last book he published before he passed away in New York City at the age of sixty-two. His final novel, Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise, was published posthumously in 2015.

Reference Works

The reference works presented here provide an introduction to Hijuelos’s life and work. Pérez Firmat 1994 analyzes Hijuelos’s first three novels in terms of his background and Cuban identity. Jaimes 2004 provides a comprehensive bibliographic essay, and a detailed overview of Hijuelos’s life and work may be found in Gale Contemporary Authors Online 2013.

  • Jaimes, Héctor. “Oscar Hijuelos.” In Latino and Latina Writers. Vol. 2. Edited by Alan West-Durán, Maria Herrera-Sobel, and César Salgado, 653–671. New York: Scribners, 2004.

    E-mail Citation »

    Bibliographic essay on Hijuelos.

  • Oscar Hijuelos.” Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2013.

    E-mail Citation »

    Comprehensive online article containing biographical information and excerpts from reviews of the writer’s works.

  • Pérez Firmat, Gustavo. “Oscar Hijuelos.” In Modern Latin-American Fiction Writers: Second Series. Edited by William Luis and Ann González, 148–154. Dictionary of Literary Biography 145. Detroit: Gale, 1994.

    E-mail Citation »

    Detailed analysis of Hijuelos’s writerly stance and comparative discussion of his first three novels.

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