Social History: Los Angeles icon novelist John Rechy, a first-generation Mexican American who has chronicled gay life in America, received the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement at a gala ceremony at the University of Southern California last month.
- John Rechy, like Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal shares a star quality and charisma with the giants of American literature.
- As my rather eccentric uncle use to ask: “Are you bored or are you boring?”
- That’s one thing he’d never ask Rechy because this maestro of a great variety of fiction, gay and straight, brings his appetite for life, his gentleman demeanor and his gifts to the written word for all to enjoy.
55 YEARS OF CELEBRATION AND FAME
This year also marks the 55th anniversary of Rechy’s debut novel CITY OF NIGHT and his recently published new novel PABLO.
RICHY HONORED BY THE LA TIMES at the USC CELEBRATION
- The 87-year-old novelist reflected on the extraordinarily negative review of his first novel, published in 1963, received from Kirsch, then a reviewer for The Times. Kirsch so disliked “City of Night,” Rechy’s story about the meanderings of a gay male prostitute through the back alleys and dark streets of America, that he wouldn’t call it a novel, referring to it instead as “a thing.”
- Kirsch’s son, writer, and critic Jonathan Kirsch presented the award to Rechy.
“Tonight we right that wrong,” the younger Kirsch told the crowd.
- Looking through 1963 newspapers for reviews on Rechy’s debut novel, it is startling to see how prejudiced some of the all-male reviewers were about the novel.
- Many were closed homosexuals and threatened by the book. As a best seller, CITY OF NIGHTS for months was one of the most read books in the USA.
- Criswell Predicts, a columnist, predicted that City of Night could result in witch hunts and expose politicians in Washington who were leading double lives.
Rechy is notorious for writing letters to reviewers critiquing their critiques. He once wrote to Gore Vidal complaining complaining about Vidal’s praise for a writer’s nasty but witty review of Rechy’s first book.
- “Dear Rechy,” Vidal wrote back, “never take these things seriously.” But he does. “That’s what I have,” Rechy says. “That’s the most important thing in my life. My creation. My art. I steadfastly uphold my artistry, and when it is being assaulted recklessly, then I take action.” He once said a writer who negatively reviewed one of his books had “penis envy.” “That review was intentionally malicious, malicious,” Rechy explains. “I have been the object of really nasty comments that have nothing to do with my literature. There was no way I could be courteous with someone who is capable of that. You have to answer in kind, and I did.”
- Has Rechy’s bad boy personality personality mellowed in the years since “City of Night” first appeared in 1963? “I would say I haven’t changed,” he says, “except by the nature of maturity. I’m more intelligent intelligent than I was. More realistic. realistic. But the same attitudes have been refined. A friend was at my reading the other night, and he said, ‘You’re still as angry at things as you were before.’ But my rage is at all the injustices we see. That’s what satire does. A lot of what I’m laughing at in my book is awful.” If Rechy is as fiery as ever, he does, at least, seem more settled. He has taught creative writing at various colleges on and off for four decades and has offered higher level courses in his home for many years.
Celebrate John Rechy by enjoying one of his many novels.