John Rechy 1934–
(Full name John Francisco Rechy) American novelist, playwright, and nonfiction writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Rechy's career through 1996. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 1, 7, 14, and 18.
Rechy is a major force in contemporary American gay literature. His portrayal of the hustler and the steamy underside of the homosexual community has earned him international attention as a literary artisan. In addition, as a Hispanic writer, he has focused attention on the Chicano community in his later fiction and non-fiction writings.
Rechy was born in El Paso, Texas, on March 10, 1934, to Roberto Sixto Rechy and Guadalupe Flores de Rechy, immigrants from Mexico. The family lived in poverty in western Texas through the Great Depression. His father was a musician and ran a small newspaper. Rechy attended Texas Western College in El Paso on a journalism scholarship. He received a B.A. in English and then briefly attended the New School of Social Research in New York City. He was drafted and served in Germany but was awarded an early release in order to attend Columbia. When he arrived in New York City he became involved in the gay subculture, hustling and traveling around the country. While in New Orleans he wrote a letter to a friend which became the basis for "Mardi Gras," his first published story. In 1961 he won the Longview Foundation Fiction Prize for "The Fabulous Wedding of Miss Destiny." He incorporated both of these stories as well as his personal experiences as a hustler into his first book City of Night (1963). The book became an international best seller and earned Rechy much critical attention. After living, writing, and teaching in El Paso for many years, Rechy moved to Los Angeles, where he continues to write and teach at the University of California—Los Angeles.
Rechy's most acclaimed work is his first novel, City of Night. The story follows the exploits and night life of a young hustler as he travels urban America meeting people who exist on the margins of society. Chapters oscillate between the experiences of the protagonist and the life stories of the people he meets. The main character searches for love and salva-tion, but after arriving back home in El Paso, he concludes that redemption is impossible. The themes of alienation and the futility of salvation, as well as Rechy's vivid descriptions of the hustling scene are common in his subsequent works. Numbers (1967), another bestseller, follows the exploits of Johnny Rio as he attempts to complete a set number of sexual encounters in Los Angeles and, thus, reestablish meaning in his life. Rechy introduces stylistic techniques and themes in this novel which he further develops in his next novels—This Day's Death (1969) and Rushes (1979). These novels are both social commentaries on society's treatment of homosexuals as well as explorations of the gay community. Rushes looks at life in a leather bar and explores the ideas of submission and dominancy within the gay community. In The Sexual Outlaw (1977) Rechy continues to explore stylistic variations. He calls the book a non-fiction novel and it is part social commentary, part novel, part autobiography. In his later work Rechy has dealt more with Chicano issues and characters. The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gomez (1991) is his most Hispanic novel to date. While it does not deal with issues of homosexuality, Rechy continues to explore themes of alienation and marginalization from the dominant society. In his later work he has also begun to focus on the role of women in society. The Miraculous Day, Marilyn's Daughter (1988), and Our Lady of Babylon (1996) all center on female characters struggling with identity issues. Rechy has also written non-fiction articles about Chicano culture for journals and magazines.
Rechy's first novel City of Night sparked a great deal of popular and critical attention. Many critics argued that Rechy's explicit descriptions constituted pornography meant not to edify but only to titillate readers. In addition, other critics believe that Rechy has harmed the public image of the homosexual community by focusing on the undercurrents of the hustling scene. They argue that by writing about characters who are misfits, delinquents, and their emotionally barren lifestyle that Rechy has reenforced society's negative impression of homosexuals. However, the book also produced positive reaction. For instance, Trudy Steuernagel argues that in City of Night Rechy portrays homosexuals as political rebels defying society but that in Rechy's subsequent novels his characters only appear as deviants. Rechy's subsequent novels have attracted less attention individually but Rechy has been spotlighted by critics as an Hispanic author who writes about the homosexual experience. Gregory Bredbeck chastizes other critics for failing to pay adequate attention to Rechy's writing style and form. Bredbeck writes: "reviewers have almost universally preferred to criticize the content and ignore the form, as if the topic of homosexuality is, in and of itself, enough to remove the need for artistic judgement." Rechy has most often been compared with James Baldwin. Scholars note that both are homosexuals and members of ethnic minorities, thus creating a double minority. However, many comment that while Baldwin focused primarily on racial issues, that Rechy has deemphasized the Chicano issues to focus on homosexuality in his novels.