Pulitzer Prize-winning author Oscar Hijuelos dies

Story highlights

Hijuelos was the first Latino to win the prestigious award for fiction

He wrote the 1989 novel "The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love"

Hijuelos, 62, died from sudden cardiac arrest, his agent says

CNN  — 

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Oscar Hijuelos has died, his agent said Sunday. He was 62.

Hijuelos was the first Latino to win the prestigious award for fiction for his 1989 novel, “The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.”

He died Saturday from sudden cardiac arrest, according to his literary agent, Jennifer Lyons.

“I never even thought that book would get published when I first wrote it,” Hijuelos told CNN’s Don Lemon in 2009.

“And because of that – having been poor in the first place – I had nothing to lose. And not having expected it to be published, I had felt enormous amounts of freedom.”

He said his book seemed to help open doors for other writers.

“The truth is that before that period, that book really, there were very few publishing houses in New York City dealing or publishing main – you know, Latino writers. I mean, it was a very – I can barely think of any titles. Most Latino authors were being published out of university presses or small presses,” he said.

Hijuelos was born in New York to Cuban parents in 1951.

As a child, he traveled with his mother to eastern Cuba to visit family. There, he contracted an infection that grew into a kidney disease and landed him in hospitals for a few years.

“I was, like, 3, or 4, or 5 at that time, and I was separated from my family, and that separation from identity, ironically enough, having to do with Cuba itself, has always been, like, one of the subthemes going through my work – which is what is an identity about? You know, who are you?” Hijuelos told CNN.

Among his other books are: “Empress of the Splendid Season,” ” Mr. Ives’ Christmas,” “The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O’Brien” and “Our House in the Last World.”

People we’ve lost in 2013

CNN’s Adam Sussman and Dana Ford contributed to this report.