The Wittliff Collections at the Texas State University has picked up the complete literary papers of internationally acclaimed El Paso-born writer John Rechy, a pioneer of American, LGBTQ and Chicano literature.
"John Rechy is a literary legend and is one of the greatest writers to come from the American Southwest,” said David Coleman, director of the Wittliff Collections, which also holds the papers of Cormac McCarthy, Sandra Cisneros and recently deceased archive namesake, Bill Wittliff. “Rechy carefully maintained his literary papers from the very beginning of his career and the breadth and depth of the resulting collection is extraordinary. This archive will nourish the significant and ongoing scholarly interest in Rechy for generations to come."
Rechy, who has always resisted categorization and still bristles at labels, made a literary splash in 1963 with the publication of his first novel, “City of Night,” which portrayed a gay street hustler. The hit for Grove Press came out seven years before the Stonewall riots brought acute attention to other pre-Stonewall LGBTQ literary forerunners such as Adrienne Rich and Gore Vidal, who called Rechy “one the few original American writers of the last century.”
“City of Night” has never gone out of print. Literary critic Edmund White called it “a classic American novel.”
Rechy’s books have been translated into 20 languages. The Los Angeles Times dubbed him “a prophet of liberation.”
The Mayan-influenced “Pablo,” a novel Rechy wrote when he was 18, was finally released in 2018, initiating another wave of interest in his work.
Although he wrote frequently about the Chicano condition for the Texas Observer and other publications, Rechy was not always fully embraced by Chicano activists. Still, critic Héctor Calderón wrote that Rechy is "one of Mexican-American literature's founding authors."
Born in El Paso in 1931, Rechy is the author of 17 books, many of them published in the 1960s and '70s. He is the first novelist to receive the PEN Center-USA's Lifetime Achievement honor.
Artists as varied as David Bowie, Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, David Hockney and Gus Van Sant have attested to Rechy’s influence.
Among his other books, “The Sexual Outlaw: A Documentary” was listed by the San Francisco Chronicle as one of the 100 most important nonfiction works of the last century. The New York Times recently included the same book in a short list of works that influenced Generation X.
Still Rechy has remained an outsider’s outsider.
“Today,” he once said, “I find myself a ‘Texas writer’ left out of discussions of Texas writers, a ‘Chicano writer’ omitted from anthologies of Chicano writers, a ‘California writer’ ignored in books about California. And even though I am excluded from several anthologies of homosexual writers, I am often designated as ‘a gay writer.’”
His papers, stored in dozens of boxes, include drafts of his books, stories and articles, as well as voluminous correspondence with friends, editors and publishers. Among the artifacts are Rechy's classic leather jacket and Tony Lama boots.
Rechy said about the Texas State acquisition: "Having my archives — reflections of a whole life — reside in the Wittliff Collections, so rich in history and modern life captured by a diversity of voices, is, for me and my work, a return home, the grand home where we belong."