John Rechy Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

When City of Night was published, the homosexual novel was still considered somewhat unusual, despite earlier appearances of works containing gay themes such as Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928), Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour (1934), Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar (1948), and James Barr’s Quatrefoil (1950). Major publishers did not encourage such works, fearing the backlash they could unleash against their companies. The public had been somewhat enlightened by Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948), but attitudes regarding gay behavior and identity regarded it as abnormal or deviant behavior.

John Francisco Rechy (REH-chee), son of Roberto Sixto Rechy and Guadalupe Flores de Rechy, was descended from Mexican and Anglo-Saxon forebears. Born in El Paso, Texas, he spoke Spanish until he began school. Rechy remained in El Paso for his undergraduate education, receiving his bachelor’s degree from Texas Western College. He continued his education at the New School for Social Research in New York City. His residence there shaped much of his future career as novelist.

Despite his Mexican background, Rechy, until the publication of The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gómez, drew less on Chicano themes than he did upon the acculturation he received in New York’s gay society in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. His writing career was bolstered in 1961 when his short story, “The Fabulous Wedding of Miss Destiny,” a gay-oriented story, received the Longview Foundation Fiction Prize. This award communicated to Rechy that he was an estimable writer and that a story focusing on gay topics could garner public recognition.

Winning the Longview award led to Rechy’s obtaining a publishing contract for City of Night. He had begun it in 1959, but it remained unfinished until 1963. Much influenced by Tennessee Williams’s plays, particularly Suddenly Last Summer (1958), Rechy focuses in City of Night on the peregrinations and sexual adventures of a hustler who wanders from New York to the gay enclaves in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New Orleans. The first-person narration closely parallels Rechy’s own adventures during the 1950’s.

This first novel, an immediate best-seller in the United States and abroad, is much in the eighteenth century picaresque tradition of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749) and Tobias Smollett’s The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle (1751). Episodic in its...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

With the publication of his first novel, City of Night, John Rechy commenced a lifelong process of self-analysis. “My life,” Rechy stated, “is so intertwined with my writing that I almost live it as if it were a novel.” In particular, Rechy examines the ways in which gay sexuality, Chicano and European American heritages, and the strictures of the Roman Catholic church struggle and sometimes harmonize with one another despite incompatibilities. Rechy writes what he calls “autobiography as fiction” in order to construct parables of spiritual salvation and damnation. Alternately remote from or near to God, family, and human connection, Rechy’s protagonists struggle against self-absorption and the fear of death.

Rechy’s parents immigrated to the southwestern United States during the Mexican Revolution. Rechy grew up torn between his father’s stern sense of defeat in the face of anti-Mexican discrimination and his mother’s intense protection of her son. The combination of his father’s Scottish heritage and his mother’s traditional Mexican background made Rechy intensely aware of his status as a person of mixed ancestry in the El Paso of his youth.

Conflicts and pressures at home caused him to move into a narcissistic remoteness that found comfort in the emotional distance of purchased sex. Wandering the country after high school, Rechy worked as a male prostitute in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and New Orleans. These experiences as a hustler became the material for City of Night. This first-person narrative of sexual and spiritual salvation combines an unapologetic depiction of the sexual underground. The work features a sympathetic protagonist’s search for ultimate connection and caring.

Set against either the urban indifference of Los Angeles or the unforgiving landscape of the desert Southwest, Rechy’s novels explore the thematic connections between sex, soul, and self. In subsequent works—in particular, This Day’s Death and The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gómez— Rechy has extended his explorations of the spirit to the particulars of Chicano family and culture.

Rechy’s autobiographical fictions chart the intersections of ethnic, sexual, regional, and religious identities. He journeys across the Southwestern landscape, through sex and spirit, along the night streets of Los Angeles, and through his own memories of growing up in El Paso.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bredbeck, Gregory W. “John Rechy.” In Contemporary Gay American Novelists: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Edited by Emmanuel S. Nelson. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993. Considers Rechy’s life, his works, and the reception of his writings.

Casillo, Charles. Outlaw: The Lives and Careers of John Rechy. Los Angeles: Advocate Books, 2002. This full-length biography includes explorations of the street hustling, writing, and academic career of Rechy, and the inspirations and tensions created by living a life of contradictions. Also includes a look at Rechy’s unpublished works.

Minority Voices 3 (Fall, 1979). A special issue on Rechy that remains useful for his early career.

Nelson, E. S. “John Rechy, James Baldwin, and the American Double Minority Literature.” Journal of American Culture 6 (Summer, 1983). Examines the two gay writers in the context of marginalized groups.

Ortiz, Ricardo. “L.A. Women: Jim Morrison with John Rechy.” Literature and Psychology 44 (1998). Discusses the eroticism of life in Los Angeles’s 1960’s counterculture. Argues that the songs “L.A. Woman” and “Back Door Man” connect the Doors with Rechy’s work, queer sexuality, the Beats, and the questioning of dominant ideas on popular culture.

Ortiz, Ricardo. “Sexuality Degree Zero.” Journal of Homosexuality 26 (August/September, 1993). Discusses pleasure and power in Rechy’s novels.

Rechy, John. Interview by Debra Castillo. Diacritics 25 (Spring, 1995). Rechy discusses Latino culture, homosexuality, and critical work on his writings.

Steuervogel, T. “Contemporary Homosexual Fiction and the Gay Rights Movement.” Journal of Popular Culture 20 (Winter, 1986). Relates Rechy’s writing to gay politics during the early days of the AIDS epidemic.