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literature

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Rechy, John (b. 1934)  

In his novels about hustling, preeminently City of Night and Numbers, John Rechy moves from the world of homosexual behavior into the world of gay identity.

Rechy was born in El Paso, Texas, in 1934. His parents, Mexican aristocrats, fled to avoid persecution during the purges of Pancho Villa. Rechy studied journalism at Texas Western College and the New School for Social Research in New York before serving in Germany in the U.S. Army.

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Afterward, Rechy relocated to New York and began a period of hustling and drifting that inspired much of his early writing. Rechy's first novel, City of Night (1963), began as a letter to a friend about his experiences at Mardi Gras and was then reworked into a short story for Evergreen Review.

Rechy's reputation as a gay writer rests primarily on City of Night, which documents the wanderings of a nameless male hustler from El Paso, to New York, Los Angeles, and New Orleans. This narrative is punctuated by recollections of the narrator's childhood in El Paso.

The novel is structured by two types of chapters, accounts of the narrator's wanderings and character sketches of people he meets as a hustler. Each character sketch builds for the reader a knowable person, but then each narrative chapter immediately pulls the reader away and moves him or her onward.

This technique in many ways forces the reader into the position of hustler: "knowing" someone, but only transiently and temporarily. This impermanence of human contact is mockingly displayed in the fact that the novel never provides a name for its narrator.

Sex in City of Night is a job, not an identity. Rechy's later novels, however, move more directly into the world of gay male writing. Numbers (1967) tells the story of Johnny Rio, a former hustler who now pursues only free sex and exclusively with men.

Johnny's pursuit of "numbers" in Los Angeles's Griffith Park is a ritual of purgation. He explains to a gay man who has befriended him that he intends to trick with thirty "numbers" in the park, and that this will then allow him to attempt other types of encounters: "It'll be only with people with identity ... that's what the park was about ... and the numbers. Losing control and losing identity. But I'm in control again, and that's what I won."

If the narrator of City of Night hustles to avoid an identity, Johnny attempts to hustle toward an identity: And with this movement, Rechy's canon moves from the world of homosexual behavior into the world of gay identity.

Although almost all of Rechy's novels contain gay characters and themes, his only two other novels to deal primarily with them are This Day's Death (1969), which tells the story of a man caught in a police vice raid in Griffith Park, and Rushes (1979), which tells the bleak story of a group of friends in an urban leather bar. Rechy also has written a nonfiction "documentary" about three days in the life of a gay hustler, The Sexual Outlaw (1977).

Yet despite these obvious examinations of gay male identity, Rechy himself has consistently derided the label of "gay writer"; indeed, his more recent novels, Marilyn's Daughter (1988) and The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gomez (1991), adopt heterosexual women as their protagonists.

Rechy will most likely be remembered in the tradition of gay male writing as a brutal and lyrical chronicler of the pre-Stonewall sexual underworld.

Gregory W. Bredbeck

     

 
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John Rechy. Photograph appears with the permission of John Rechy.
  
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    Bibliography
   

Bruce-Novoa, Juan. "In Search of the Honest Outlaw: John Rechy." Minority Voices 3 (1979): 37-45.

_____. "Homosexuality and the Chicano Novel." Confluencia 2:1 (Fall 1986): 69-77.

Giles, James R., and Wanda Giles. "An Interview with John Rechy." Chicago Review 25 (1973): 19-31.

Heifetz, Henry. "The Anti-Social Act of Writing." Studies on the Left 4 (Spring 1964): 6-9.

Hoffman, Stanton. "The Cities of Night: John Rechy's City of Night and the American Literature of Homosexuality." Chicago Review 17:2-3 (1964): 195-206.

Ortiz, Ricardo L. "John Rechy and the Grammar of Ostentation." Cruising the Performative: Interventions into the Representation of Ethnicity, Nationality, and Sexuality. Sue-Ellen Case, Philip Brett, and Susan Leigh Foster, eds. Bloomington: Indiana Univesity Press, 1995. 59-70.

Satterfield, Ben. "John Rechy's Tormented World." Southwest Review 67:1 (Winter 1982): 78-85.

Tatum, Charles M. "The Sexual Underworlds of John Rechy." Minority Voices 3 (1979): 47-52.

Zamora, Carlos. "Odysseus in John Rechy's City of Night: The Epistemological Journey." Minority Voices 3 (1979): 53-62.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Bredbeck, Gregory W.  
    Entry Title: Rechy, John  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated September 20, 2008  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/rechy_j.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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