Under The Cover Of Night

Charles Casillo profiles John Rechy, the gay hustler-turned-writer whose groundbreaking debut novel, City of Night, just turned 50:

“I want to be known as a writer with a unique life who has transformed that life into literature,” CityofNightRechyRechy says. With City of Night he succeeded. City of Night blends Rechy’s poetic vision with his journalistic eye for detail, and he makes his misfit characters yearnings, burnings, and alienation feel universal. The book documents its time, a time when homosexuality was illegal, and still described in medical books as a mental illness. It is one of the best firsthand accounts of what it was like to be gay in the mid-20th century — ostracized — separate from the mainstream world. It reveals, through its characters, how young men couldn’t admit, even to themselves, that they were what society deemed perverted. Rechy recalls. “I remember on a New York subway I saw a man reading a book; I could recognize it right away as City of Night although he had wrapped a different jacket around it.”

The essay also includes a revealing anecdote about Rechy:

“Theres just two ages anyway,” a character in City of Night observes, “youngman and oldman.” After its publication, Rechy, his age murkily sandwiched somewhere between those two extremes, led a bizarrely divided life. He continued hustling the streets and the parks even as he published a steady stream of books — fifteen to date. Simultaneously he became a respected teacher at UCLA and in private workshop classes he gave from his home. Sometimes his carefully compartmentalized worlds collided, as on the evening he was standing shirtless on Hollywood Boulevard, his muscular torso on full display, when one of his students happened to pass by. “Good evening, Professor Rechy,” the bemused student shouted, “Out for an evening stroll?”

(Image: First edition cover)