On Monday, June 20, Oglethorpe will host Oscar Hijuelos, the first Latin American to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Hijuelos recently completed his memoir titled Thoughts Without Cigarettes and will share that story of his personal quest for identity.
After winning the Pulitzer in 1990 for his second novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, Hijuelos began to receive international attention for his vibrant fiction novels depicting Cubano life and culture. He also began to realize how his appearance played a key role in his cultural identity.
“People look at me—blond, fair-skinned, kind of New York in [my] demeanor….they say, ‘How on earth did that happen?” explained Hijuelos in a C-Span interview. “And I’d have to explain it because a lot of people thought Mambo Kings was my first novel. I found myself over the years explaining just what I was about…people are curious. How is it that you write these books about Cubano culture and upbringing, and other related issues to Latinos…so in a way, Thoughts Without Cigarettes is a response to all those people who have asked me these questions over the years.”
In Thoughts Without Cigarettes, Hijuelos introduces readers to the colorful circumstances of his upbringing. Born in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights to Cuban immigrants in 1951, Cigarettes relates the tale of Hijuelos’ early life, played out against the backdrop of an often prejudiced working-class neighborhood. The story takes on an even richer dimension when his relationship to his family and culture changes forever. During a sojourn in pre-Castro Cuba with his mother, he caught a disease that sent him into a hospital for terminally ill children upon his return. The yearlong stay estranged him from his language and the people he loved. In the book, Hijuelos tells how he overcame this early experience of displacement and how his inter-cultural experiences shaped him into the person he is today.
During this special event, to be hosted in Oglethorpe’s Phoebe Hearst Hall, Hijuelos will read excerpts, discuss, and sign copies of Thoughts Without Cigarettes. The evening is presented by the AJC-Decatur Book Festival,in association with Oglethorpe University and A Capella Books, and will include traditional Latin-style music performed by Cucho Garcia of the local ensemble, San Juan Jam. Guests will also enjoy refreshments provided by Sugarloft, a new Atlanta catering company inspired by Cuban bakeries that fill the palm-lined streets of Miami.
Tickets are available for $40 per person. To reserve tickets, please visit acappellabooks.com or call 404-681-5128. Ticket price includes a signed, first edition copy of the new book and benefits the AJC-Decatur Book Festival.