Nov 252013


“Oh yes!…The sweet summons of God to man. That’s when He calls you up to His arms. And it’s the most beautiful thing, a rebirth, a new life. But, just the same I’m in no rush to find out.”
― Oscar Hijuelos, Mr. Ives’ Christmas

Oscar Hijuelos, an old friend, died in October. I knew Oscar mostly through his visits to Yaddo, just down the road from where I live, and through mutual friends. He and Steve Stern and I had some uproarious times, not to be forgotten. I also interviewed him for the radio show I used to produce in Albany — this was in 1995 when he published the novel Mr. Ives’ Christmas. He was a generous, gentle man, also very funny, and a passionate, brilliant writer, best remembered nowadays for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Mambo Kings Plays Songs of Love.

Philip Graham knew Oscar much better than I did. And he has written a very personal and poignant elegy that you should all read. Then you should all go out and buy Oscar’s books and read them.

Thanks, Philip, for this.


Of all the photos taken of him, the image above captures best, I think, the man who was my friend for thirty-eight years. Oscar Hijuelos and I met in graduate school at City College in 1975, two young writers in Frederick Tuten’s fiction workshop. Oscar was shy, even deferential to the other writers in the workshop, but when he first read his work to us in class, his head bowed over the pages on the desk, his voice low, everyone recognized his enormous talent.

We became friends, visiting each other often in his apartment on the Upper West Side or the house I was renting with old college friends north of the city. We read each other’s manuscripts (and continued to do so over the years), discovered that we were born within two days (and only a few miles) of each other, and we talked about our life-or-death love of literature, drank and joked and ate at any Cuban-Chinese restaurant we came upon in New York. To say Oscar had a good sense of humor is not quite right—he had a great sense of amusement, about everything in the world (and he also had a great curious appetite for everything in the world), and when I hear Oscar’s voice in my mind (and I listen to him a lot these days), I can hear his restrained chuckle, or the casual bemusement in the very tone of his speaking. That slight, gentle smile in the photo says it all.

Read the rest at Philip Graham » Blog Archive » My Mambo King.

  One Response to “My Mambo King — Philip Graham”

  1. Thank you for this. I was out of the country when I got the devastating news of Oscar’s death. He was my “brother” in that much as we argued–and we did–we knew there was no way around it, we would always be in each other’s lives. I can’t believe he’s gone.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.