Oscar Hijuelos

Oscar Hijuelos was a Durham, North Carolina-based novelist. He died October 12, 2013.

Selected Works:

Our House in the Last World, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O'Brien, Empress of the Splendid Season, Thoughts Without Cigarettes: A Memoir


1985 Rome Prize (Our House in the Last World); 1990 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love); Grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation

Visit Author Website

Which one or two American books or plays would you yourself recommend to the foreign leaders? Why?

Well, for one, Gem of the Ocean, a brilliant play by August Wilson, and in terms of (relatively) contemporary fiction, I rather think that Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and Rudy Anaya's Bless Me Ultima would be eye-opening. (And to go further back, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mr. Twain, of course.) 

I think each speaks to a certain formative time in American history. August Wilson addresses the legacy of slavery, while Ralph Ellison's novel addresses the emerging African American male, at the cusp of a time when everything began to change in terms of civil rights. Rudy Anaya's book recounts a saga, taken from a certain moment in Mexican-American history, while Twain's very famous book offers a lyric and tender look at yet another time, pre-Civil War America. Of course my list could go on, but I think each of these books is a piece of the puzzle that comprises the collective, ever-emerging American identity.

Who in your childhood—for example, parent or teacher—encouraged you to read books, and which one or two books do you remember most fondly?

Oddly enough, I really didn't have a teacher or parent to guide me; my mother, though, was somewhat of a creative soul, who wrote poetry, so I always had that in my head. As for influences, a childhood friend who always had books in his home seems to have had a positive influence on me, though the only ones I can recall reading now were Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, a copy of which my mother found somewhere—I still have it.

Which books by writers of the other G8 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom) have been most important to you as a writer?

Goodness. During my formative years as a writer, I very much liked Gabriel Garcia Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges, but that would be the tip of an iceberg that included other writers like Julio Cortázar, José Donoso and Carlos Fuentes, all Latin Americans. At the same time, I was very much under the spell of two rather unlike writers—the Polish/British writer Joseph Conrad and, from Ireland, Flann O'Brien, whose fanciful works were always interesting to me, even if they hadn't anything to do with my Cuban ancestry.

What is the Power of the Word Exhibit?

Power of the Word: Leaders, Readers and Writers is the first online exhibition of The American Writers Museum. As world leaders gather in the U.S. this spring, The American Writers Museum Foundation is inviting American writers and readers to explore the power of the word and join in a discussion of how American books can help readers in other parts of the world better understand our culture.

Leaders Gallery

An exploration into what some of the world’s most powerful leaders like to read, and how reading has influenced them.

Writers Gallery

American writers comment on their early experiences with reading and name the books they think world leaders should read in order to better understand American culture.

Readers Gallery

An interactive, open forum where readers are invited to join the discussion by answering the question: Which American works of literature do you think leaders from other nations should read in order to gain a better understanding of America?

We would like to thank our exhibit sponsors for their generous support:


What is The American Writers Museum?

The mission of The American Writers Museum Foundation is to establish the first national museum in the United States dedicated to engaging the public in celebrating American writers and exploring their influence on our history, our identity, our culture and our daily lives. Learn more at www.americanwritersmuseum.org