A Cuban American novelist, he is best known for his 1989 work, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. The novel won him the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was later adapted into a feature film.
He earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in creative writing from the City College of New York. Following graduation, he worked in advertising before devoting himself to a full-time writing career.
He became the first Hispanic writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
He was born in New York City to Cuban immigrant parents (Pascual and Magdalena Hijuelos). He was married twice; his second wife was fellow writer, Lori Marie Carlson.
He studied under Susan Sontag at the City College of New York.