Hijuelos was born in Morningside Heights in WestSide Harlem, New York to Cuban immigrant parents. He studied writing at City College of New York, and practiced various professions before taking up writing full-time.
He currently lives in New York City, and has a contract with Harper Collins.
Our House in the Last World, 1983 (Rome Prize, 1985)
The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, 1990 (Pulitzer Prize), the basis for the 1992 motion picture The Mambo Kings (produced as a musical in 2005)
The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O'Brien, 1993
Mr. Ives' Christmas, 1995
Empress of the Splendid Season, 1999
A Simple Habana Melody, 2002
OSCAR HIJUELOS is a Pulitzer-prize-winning Cuban-American.
His novel Empress of the Splendid Season is set in the neighborhood:
"By the mid-1960's many of the Irish in that neighborhood had left, though several large families remained on 123rd, on the hill around the corner from where Lydia and Raul lived. A new Chinese restaurant went into business near the El train entrance, and over on Amsterdam Avenue a Japanese joint had opened on the first floor of an apartment building near an old Civil-War-era stone water house. Students abounded because of the universities, City College to the north, and to the south Columbia and Barnard ("Barnyard").
"One afternoon in the spring of 1968, during the time of the famous university riots, a college girl, wandering lost in the cavernous and winding recesses of a many-stairwelled building at the edge of a campus "occupied" -- liberated -- by rebellious students, had nearly been raped, or so she had claimed, by three local youths... The riots had brought more and more police around, especially by the university campus, these policemen stopping people for no particular reason, like Raul, on his way to visit Martinez, an old school friend who lived over on Amsterdam on the other side of the school. They were Tactical Police Force officers, who at that point had endured weeks of tension, standing in at-the-ready formation in riot gear and with Roman-looking shields poised before them, along certain points on upper Broadway and in various places around the campus."
"Irritable and vindictive, they couldn't really give a damn about the complaints of one of them, for they (rightly) lumped her in with the bourgeois kids who'd started the trouble over a deserted piece of shit, glass-strewn university property in Morningside Park in West Harlem. The university's plan to clear away several acres of granite and shale and thickets of poison oak to build an athletic field (it is there now, just off 110th Street and Manhattan Avenue) had outraged the radical students, though few of these kids, in the ordinary course of their life at the university, wouldn't have been caught dead in that place, or anywhere else in the park, unless by accident..."
"The 'community' itself -- that is, the working people of Harlem and the West Side -- were not really involved, nor was their opinion solicited; rather, in the manner of the upper class, the radicals declared that the project would be exploitative of the people, that it was yet another example of racism, as the university leadership was white and much of the community was black and Hispanic. Assuming the righteousness of their cause, the radicals sought agreement with what they had already decided upon. Street protests against the Vietnam War, ROTC on campus, and university ownership of armament company stocks melded with the cause of community rights. In the name of liberation, students went on strike, closing down the school and occupying many of the campus buildings."
"The people in Lydia's neighborhood were against the war and for civil rights, but beyond that they were not really a part of the glory and heroism of the movement. Pamphlets were handed out on every street corner, public high-school kids were bussed in to protest (without knowing what they were protesting), condemnations of the university and the government were shouted through megaphones; a multitude of reporters roamed looking for interesting radicals to interview, while folks like Lydia and Raul, walking home, tired from work, went ignored..."
"In any event, during the strikes, which had lasted for most of the semester, it was the habit of local kids to invade the campus, attending radical rallies and dances. When the students began to occupy different buildings, shut off from the outside world, the locals found ways to get inside. Because the students had an easy enough time bringing food, money, booze, and whatever else they needed into the occupied buildings, (hanging from cord out windows were picnic baskets into which passersby on Amsterdam or Broadway could toss money or drugs or cigarettes for the cause), there was much to eat and drink; jugs of cheap wine and beer were everywhere.
"With the passage of years the university had put up new and ghastly buildings in the neighborhood, a law school and a school of international affairs, among others, and modern sculptures so breathtakingly ugly that passersby and time-time residents of the neighborhood were immediately depressed; and the constructed all manner of blocky high-rise student housing, demolishing many a tenement (out with the past, upward and onward with the future!) and raising the rents so high that businesses like Eliseo's cafe were forced to close. Eliseo began to sell books on Broadway, and every so often Lydia, taking a walk, would stop by to see him...