Rechy Publishes Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

John Rechy’s experiences hustling and his extraordinary literary and reporting skills led him to write his novel City of Night, which gave readers a hitherto unseen panorama of gay characters, places, and cultures in late 1950’s and early 1960’s America.

Summary of Event

City of Night is a novel in segments, interspersed with lyrical commentary by an unnamed first-person narrator, a male hustler. Prostitution, in gay literature The novel is framed by the recollection of the protagonist’s first loss as a child in El Paso, Texas: the death of his dog, for which he is inconsolable because he has been told that dogs cannot go to heaven. This example of life’s unfairness leads the narrator to question other inequities and to empathize with the very tricks who, by selecting and paying him, empower him and allay certain identity crises. [kw]Rechy Publishes City of Night (1963) [kw]Publishes City of Night, Rechy (1963) [kw]City of Night, Rechy Publishes (1963) City of Night (Rechy) Literature;gay [c]Literature;1963: Rechy Publishes City of Night[0570] [c]Publications;1963: Rechy Publishes City of Night[0570] Rechy, John Allen, Don Merriam

Freedom for a gay life has often been found through travel. Although City of Night is set in the United States, the narrator crosses the country, giving dispatches, as it were, from most major U.S. cities. The narrator creates a travelogue of underground life from the late 1950’s to the time of the novel’s publication in 1963.

“City of night” refers in part to life in areas of cities Urban life;and gay literature[gay literature] that are unknown to most heterosexuals and even to those gays who do not participate in gay life Gay “underground” in literature[gay underground] at the margins. During the period when the novel takes place, the subcultures of gay life came alive at night in areas of cities rejected by straights. At the same time that characters in the novel are alienated from mainstream venues, they are initiates of other places difficult to reach and purposely not well advertised. This inverse glamour is akin to slumming and reminiscent of the location of clubs in offbeat parts of cities, even into the twenty-first century.

The narrator moves through classes and cultures as fluidly as he moves across the physical landscape. He and his fellow hustlers are privileged to enter—though not belong to—the world of an elite Hollywood film director, for example. Middle class by birth and having chosen the life of a hustler, the narrator witnesses “the compassion that only one outcast can feel for another.” Transient experiences inspire and become a permanent art, whereby he extends his compassion to his characters.

Prominent among these characters are drag queens, Drag queens/kings[drag queens kings];in gay male culture[gay male culture] such as Darling Dolly Dane and Miss Destiny, whose dream is to have a lavish wedding with one of her hustler beaux. In contrast to her actual living conditions in Echo Park, a run-down area of Los Angeles in the early 1960’s, Miss Destiny dreams of a life as a conventionally gendered woman. Her assertive if not aggressive dialogue stems from the daily struggles of drag queens to define themselves and their gender roles in society.

Other characters include johns who pay the narrator for specific “sexual” acts, such as sitting around naked while the john cooks dinner; skewed scenes of domesticity, traditionally denied to gay men; and scenes of intimacy between the narrator and a fellow hustler. Hustling and hustler bars do not, of course, represent gay life generally and have never been in the mainstream. In the restricted and oppressive atmosphere of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, however, working-class gay bars often drew gays who were not strictly a part of the drag queen and hustler cultures, providing opportunities for johns to meet hustlers. Johns placed an emphasis on actual or perceived straightness, at a time when queens cruised military men in uniform. Johns sought hustlers who dressed according to the masculine norms of the time, with clothing styles and even hairstyles influenced by outlaw actors Marlon Brando and James Dean.

The hustler narrator participates sexually in what is considered the more “masculine” role. He is not penetrated in any of the sexual acts his clients hire him to perform. This division of gays into those who assume “active” roles and those who assume “passive” roles is a construction of gay sexual identities more typical of the era than it was after the time of the Stonewall Rebellion (1969). Concomitant changes led to diversified gay male gender identities.


City of Night was an outgrowth of changes in the types of subject matter that could be published in the United States. After numerous court challenges, the pioneering Grove Press Grove Press was able to publish and sell books formerly “published in Paris” and long sold only “under the counter.” Grove Press books include Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928) by D. H. Lawrence (Grove Press ed., 1959), Tropic of Cancer (1934) by Henry Miller (Grove Press ed., 1961), and translations of works by French gay author Jean Genet.

Rechy began to publish his stories of gay life in the United States during this period of change. The first story came in the form of a letter to a friend, which appeared in the Grove Press journal Evergreen Review in 1958. The review’s editor, Don Merriam Allen, encouraged Rechy to turn subsequently published stories into a novel and supported his decision to rewrite the book completely, even after it had been in galley proofs. Although some booksellers refused to stock the novel, it appeared on U.S. best-seller lists for more than six months and also was an international best seller, translated into twenty languages. City of Night is widely considered an American classic, and it appears on the required reading lists of many general literature courses as well as those of gay literature courses.

Rechy’s novel gave gay readers of its day some of the first easily available pictures of themselves. The narrator bestows a dignity on his gay characters by writing about them from inside their world and by observing them “clinically,” as would a psychologist or social worker, a common practice at the time when writing about gay life.

Rechy has written numerous other works of fiction and nonfiction with breakthrough subject matter. The persona from City of Night cruises into the next novel, Numbers (1967), Numbers (Rechy) where the narrator is given the name Johnny Rio. Johnny’s story is one in which the desire and ability of homosexuals to have multiple sexual partners, “numbers,” is used as a metaphor for larger questions of sexual identity.

Rechy has also been a teacher of writers, and alumnae from his courses have published extensively in all genres. In the early 1970’s, he began lecturing to classes in gay literature, and he has written numerous book reviews. He also has influenced a much younger generation of outlaw or outsider writers, such as J. T. Leroy, author of The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things (2001), and Mack Friedman, author of a history of male hustlers, Strapped for Cash (2003). City of Night (Rechy) Literature;gay

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bredbeck, Gregory W. “John Rechy.” In Contemporary Gay American Novelists, edited by Emmanuel S. Nelson. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Casillo, Charles. Outlaw: The Lives and Careers of John Rechy. Los Angeles: Advocate Books, 2002.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Friedman, Mack. Strapped for Cash: A History of American Hustler Culture. Los Angeles: Alyson, 2003.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rechy, John. City of Night. New York: Grove Press, 1963.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Numbers. New York: Grove Press, 1967.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. The Sexual Outlaw: A Documentary, a Non-Fiction Account, with Commentaries, of Three Days and Nights in the Sexual Underground. New York: Grove Press, 1977.

July 4, 1855: Whitman Publishes Leaves of Grass

May 25, 1895: Oscar Wilde Is Convicted of Gross Indecency

1924: Gide Publishes the Signed Edition of Corydon

1939: Isherwood Publishes Goodbye to Berlin

1947-1948: Golden Age of American Gay Literature

1956: Baldwin Publishes Giovanni’s Room

June, 1971: The Gay Book Award Debuts

1974: The Front Runner Makes The New York Times Best-Seller List

1975: First Novel About Coming Out to Parents Is Published

1980: Alyson Begins Publishing Gay and Lesbian Books

1980-1981: Gay Writers Form the Violet Quill

May, 1987: Lambda Rising Book Report Begins Publication

June 2, 1989: Lambda Literary Award Is Created

1993: Monette Wins the National Book Award for Becoming a Man

Categories: History