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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