CNN said Hijuelos, who was born in New York to Cuban parents, was the first Latino author to win the fiction prize. He was honored for his 1989 novel, "The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love."
"I never even thought that book would get published when I first wrote it," Hijuelos told CNN 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."
His other books include "Empress of the Splendid Season," "Mr. Ives' Christmas," "The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O'Brien" and "Our House in the Last World."
The author died Saturday, his literary agent, Jennifer Lyons, confirmed Sunday.