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U.S. prize-winning ‘Mambo Kings’ author dead at 62

October 14, 2013

NEW YORK CITY – Oscar Hijuelos, the Cuban-American author best known for his Pulitzer-prize winning novel “The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love,” died in New York age 62, U.S. media reported Sunday.

Hijuelos collapsed on a tennis court in Manhattan on Saturday and never regained consciousness, his widow, Lori Marie Carlson, told the New York Times.

Hijuelos was born in 1951 in New York of Cuban immigrant parents. He was the first Hispanic to win the Pulitzer in 1990 for “Mambo Kings,” his second novel.

The book, translated into 25 languages, was made into a 1992 Hollywood movie starring Antonio Banderas and Armand Assante.

“Mambo Kings” is about the adventures of Cuban brothers César and Néstor Castillo, who move to the United States in the 1950s at the height of the Mambo craze.

Hijuelos’s other books often focused on the lives of Cuban-Americans. They included “The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O’Brien (1993), “A Simple Habana Melody” (2002), and “Beautiful Maria of my Soul” (2010).

“When I was a little kid, I went to Cuba. I got very sick, I spent a year [in the hospital] away from my family and the culture. … My mother said I went in speaking Spanish and came out speaking English,” Hijuelos said in a 2011 interview with the PBS News Hour as he was promoting his memoir, “Thoughts Without Cigarettes.”

“I never thought I would be a writer growing up. I certainly never thought that as a kid. And even when a lot of people around me expressed strong confidence in what they saw as my gifts or emerging gifts, I always doubted them,” Hijuelos said.

“A lot of people take reading and writing and being good at something for granted. But if you come up in a certain way, without a lot of positive reinforcement, it takes a lot, like Pulitzer Prizes and being published all over the world, to make you feel pretty good about yourself,” he told PBS.

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