Remembering Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author Oscar Hijuelos, Dead at 62

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“Oh yes!…The sweet summons of God to man.  That’s when He calls you up to His arms.  And it’s the most beautiful thing, a rebirth, a new life.  But, just the same I’m in no rush to find out.” ― Mr. Ives’ Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos

Oscar Hijuelos, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for his novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love , died yesterday of a heart attack while playing tennis, according to his agent, Jennifer Lyons.  Hijuleos was 62.

Hijuelos was the first Latino writer to be awarded the coveted prize.  The novel traces the journey of two Cuban brothers who leave Havana for a life in New York to pursue a career in music. In 1992, the novel was adapted into a film starring Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas.

Although the Pulitzer brought the author fame, it also brought hardships.  Hijuelos felt labeled as an “ethnic” writer.   In an interview on NPR’s Newshour in 2011, Hijuelos  discussed his memoir Thoughts Without Cigarettes.  He told interviewer Ray Suarez that he

 sometimes felt like a freak, simply because the level of my success and traveling around the world as — quote — “a Latino writer” as much as anything, was sort of wonderful and also very strange for me at the same time, because, indeed, I’m — I came up as but one version of many potential versions of Latinos that there could be.

And I have never — as I say in the memoir, I have never intended to represent myself as a spokesman for anybody but myself. And yet I would be in a roundtable in Sweden, in Stockholm, Sweden, at a live television show, and the host would come on and look around trying to figure out who the Latino guy was in the group. That kind of thing was both interesting and alarming at the same time.

Here is the complete interview. Rest in Peace, Mr. Hijuelos.


Happy 87th Birthday, Harper Lee!

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Last night, I found my sixteen-year-old daughter in bed  a full hour early. In her hands was Harper Lee‘s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird. “I want to see what is happening with Scout. I’m worried about her,” she explained.

My daughter, like millions of other readers, has become enthralled by the coming-of-age story of Scout Finch as she navigates the racially-charged world of Alabama in the 1930s.

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Yesterday, April 28, 2013, marked the 87th birthday of Harper Lee, the novel’s author. To Kill a Mockingbird was immediately popular and has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. It was an instant critical success as well, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. In 2008, London’s The Telegraph named To Kill a Mockingbird “the greatest novel of all time.”

The novel, Lee’s only published work, may not have ever been.  She was struggling to make ends meet in New York, working as a ticket agent for Eastern Airlines. While in the city, she became friends with the composer and lyricist Michael Brown and his wife, Joy. The three became very close. In December, the Brown’s gave Lee an astonishing gift: a years’ salary with a note that read, “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.” Within a year, Lee had completed the first draft of  Mockingbird. 

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Hot on the heels of Lee’s Pulitzer was the film being made of her work. The movie was released in 1962 starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. To Kill a Mockingbird won three Oscars and was nominated for five more. In 2003, AFI named Atticus Finch the greatest movie hero of the 20th century.

Want more? How about some trivia?!

Five Quotes from To Kill a Mockingbird

  1. Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.
  2. I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.
  3. Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself.
  4. Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.
  5. You really never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

Seven Quotes: On Reading & Writing

  1. More than a simple matter of putting down words, writing is a process of self-discipline you must learn before you can call yourself a writer. There are people who write, but I think they’re quite different from people who must write.
  2. There’s no substitute for the love of language, for the beauty of an English sentence. There’s no substitute for struggling, if a struggle is needed, to make an English sentence as beautiful as it should be.
  3. I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career, that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.
  4. Any writer worth his salt writes to please himself…It’s a self-exploratory operation that is endless. An exorcism of not necessarily his demon, but of his divine discontent.
  5. It was like being hit over the head and knocked cold. I didn’t expect the book to sell in the first place. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of reviewers but at the same time I sort of hoped that maybe someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.
  6. Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books. Instant information is not for me. I prefer to search library stacks because when I work to learn something, I remember it.
  7. You must come to terms with yourself about your writing. You must not write ‘for’ something; you must not write with definite hopes of reward. (Source).

Still want more?? Test your knowledge of Harper Lee or her classic novel!  Take our fun, interactive quizzes!

To Kill a Mockingbird Quiz 

Harper Lee Quiz


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