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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Packing writing with emotion

“When you write fiction, you can sort of invent more but also pack it with emotions that are very pertinent to you. Whereas with nonfiction, you have to be as factual as possible but also hopefully - also bring... emotional relevance to the piece.”—Oscar Hijuelos

Born on this day in 1951, Hijuelos (who died at age 62 of a heart attack) was an American novelist of Cuban descent who became the first Latino to win a Pulitzer Prize in fiction (for his book The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love).  Hijuelos also held the distinction of spending a year in the hospital as a young child and effectively losing his ability to speak Spanish during his convalescent period. 
He later wrote of that time: "I became estranged               
 from the Spanish language and, therefore, my roots.”  But, he still chose to write of the immigrant experience.   “It's true that immigrant novels have to do with people going from one country to another, but there isn't a single novel that doesn't travel from one place to another, emotionally or locally.”

Educated in New York City, where he began his career in advertising, he started writing in short stories and dramas, then was encouraged by his family to try a novel about the Cuban-American experience.   That book – Our House in the Last World – was critically received and launched a novel-writing career mostly focused on Hispanic-Latino Americans.  Shortly before his death he was honored with the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature. 

Also a musician, he said music became an important backdrop to many of his writings, noting, “Music infuses your spirit with a certain energy that I try to convey in my work.”

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