Aaron Schackter: Oscar Hijuelos chronicled another slice of immigrant life in the U.S. The Cuban American writer died of a heart attack in New York over the weekend at the age of 62. He won a Pulitzer prize for his novel 'The mambo Kings play songs of love', which was made into a movie. Hector Tobar is a novelist and book critic for the LA Times.
Hector Tobar: Oscar was the son of Cuban immigrants like many other characters he wrote about. He grew up in a family with some musicians in it ,lot of creativity . His uncle played briefly with the band leader Xavier Cugat in the 1950s and was the basis of the character who was protagonists in his Pulitzer Prized novel 'the mambo kings played songs of love'.
Schackter: Now oscar and writers like Juno D are so popular these days . Its hard almost remembered that Hijuelos was breaking down barriers at a time when young Hispanic writers ,were more or less ignored by big publishing houses.
Hector: Oscar had written one novel for a small house in New york that he sold the second novel to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and it was a time when major New york publishing houses didn't publish novels by Latino writers. And in many ways Oscars success opened the door for so many other writers to follow it from many different, you know, corners of the Latino- American experience .
Interviewer:In his memo 'Thoughts without cigarettes' he struggled against being labeled as a Latino or an Ethnic writer. How was he viewed among Cuban Americans , among the Latino population as a whole ? was he considered a hero?
Hector: Yes i think that mostly because of his words were true . I mean ,he wasn't someone who was trieng to take his immigrant experience and create a character. he created very complex characters with deep emotional complexity . And i think people really value him for his craft. I mean ,i as a writer really appreciated the fact that he was someone who was finally hold writer .
Schackter: Hector, from what i understand you never met Oscar Hijuelos ,but you did have contact with him in the last few years. What impressions did you get of him as a person?
Hector : I reviewed Oscars last book which was his memo 'Thoughts without cigarettes' for Los Angeles Times . And he took the time to write to me and thank me . Its not many writers who writes critics to express their thanks . And he was very generous about the review itself , Generous about my own writing . He also later read my own novel which happened to be published by the same house that published his novel . It just made me feel , you know like , i was part of his circle, made me feel like a writer and you know when you are a writer , you are a novelist you are constantly battling with insecurities and when an elder takes the time to acknowledge you , to praise your own work .Its something that is really very very important to a writer.
Schackter: You know when a Pulitzer Prize winner says your stuff is pretty good , that's nice to hear.
Hector: It is . Yes.
Schackter: Hector Tobar is a novelist and a book critic for the LA Times. Hector, Thank you so much.