NiteTalk: From Mad Men to Mambo Kings with Oscar Hijuelos

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There are of course wide varieties of Cuban-American experiences, and each is as robust and as individual as the person who's lived them. Take Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Oscar Hijuelos, who's own experiences include bouts with both Mad Men and Mambo Kings. Since the New York born author is bringing his Thoughts Without Cigarettes (Gotham $27.50) to Books and Books this Thursday, Niteside decided to reach out.

Would you please tell us a quick bit about Thoughts Without Cigarettes? It's the story of how I came up in NYC as the son of Cuban immigrants and the events that changed me as a child -- mainly an illness which put me in the hospital for a year and estranged me from my Cuban roots -- roots which I eventually rediscovered as a writer.
Where does the title spring from? I grew up in a neighborhood where every boy smoked -- even the birds: it was always present in my household, and it was something I gravitated to over the years during times of turmoil: the title is to suggest that the memoir was written in a state free from anxiety (which, of course, can't possibly ever be true.)

You were working Madison Avenue when you published your first novel - how much Mad Men was it? I caught the tail end of that age: there was a little sexism at play, but really not too much, and my job, in a transit ad company, really wasn't that glamorous, though I caught glimpses of that glamor at other agencies like Doyle Dane and Biernback and Young and Rubicam. Still, I loved the people I worked with.

Do you dig the show?  I have enjoyed it on occasion-- more as a fantasy, than anything to do with my own experience of that world.

From Madison Ave you went to Rome, and continued to return each year for some time. How much of Italy remains in you (and your work)? I liked getting lost in another culture: and, while writing Mambo Kings -- my best known novel -- I got some insight into what my folks went through adjusting to life in New York -- or another culture. And the Latinoness of Roman life was something that also inspired me. It also reminds me (somehow) of Havana -- at least of my imagination.

Oscar Hijuelos June 23 8 p.m. at Books and Books 265 Aragon Avenue Coral Gables For more information call (305) 442-4408 or log on here.

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