Oscar Hijuelos was known for giving an honest view of Cuban-American life. He was the son of Cuban immigrants, and he won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel, "The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love."
Los Angeles Times writer Hector Tobar says Hijuelos, like many of the characters he wrote about, grew up in a family with musicians in it. The author's uncle was the basis for the protagonist in Mambo Kings.
The US publishing house Farrar, Straus and Giroux picked up Mambo Kings in the 1980s, opening a path for future Latino writers.
"It was a time when major New York publishing houses didn't publish novels by young Latino writers," Tobar says. "And I think people really value [Hijuelos] for his craft."
It's a reflection of that craft that brought the two writers together over email. Tobar reviewed Hijuelos' final book, "Thoughts Without Cigarettes." Hijuelos read the review and took the time to write Tobar a note.
Few writers take the time to write a note to a critic. But Hijuelos did that — and then he did more. The writer read Tobar's own novel. Tobar says that Hijuelos, in a sense, made him feel like a real writer.
"When you're a writer, when you're a novelist, you're constantly battling with insecurities," says Tobar. "And when an elder takes the time to acknowledge you, to praise your own work, it is something that is very, very important to a writer."
Hijuelos died over the weekend of a heart attack, at age 62.