| A Writer
Editor, Book Review
The New York Times
229 West 43rd St.
New York, New York 10036
Dear Mr. McGrath:
When you called
in November in response to my letter asking about a review
of my twelfth novel, The Coming of the Night, you
informed me there had been no review because "a reviewer
would not be able to find a single page to quote from."
You offered to reconsider the matter. Since no review
appeared, I assume you agreed with that assessment.
On the telephone,
I did not have a chance to rebut. I do so now. Glancing
over an issue of your Book Review, I find many
reviews that do not quote from work discussed. That leaves,
as reason for not reviewing my novel, the implicit claim
that even a review of it would assault the sensibilities
of your readers.
the same novel have appeared in the Los Angeles Times
Book Review (the lead review, given the front page),
San Francisco Chronicle, Dallas Morning News
(another lead review), Publishers Weekly, Library
Journal, Kirkus, A&U magazine
(a leading AIDS-awareness publication that also gave it
the cover), etc. None of those reviews has aroused indignation;
nor has the novel itself, a Southern California bestseller
for five weeks, publication scheduled in six foreign countries
My novel is
sexually graphic, by serious intent, documenting the moments
before AIDS, when "sex was everywhere." But
a reviewer needn't dwell on that. He might note the careful
structure of the novel, its sentences, its gradual move
toward surrealism. He might discover that to each of the
12 main characters I assign a mimetic tone that characterizes
them further, and that--although there is no reference
to "AIDs since the word did not yet exist--the imagery
of indifferent contagion is woven into the language describing
the Sant'Ana winds and the fires sweeping the City on
the day documented. A reviewer might note that, without
judgment, my novel is admonitory, asking the all-too-relevant
question: "Would you die for sex?"
back, a highly regarded publisher-editor of mine (not
my present publisher) informed me that he had learned
on "inside information: that I was "blacklisted
at the New York Times, notably the Book Review.
I disbelieved that--difficult to accept that people committed
to respect for the arts would indulge such malice and
arbitrary interference with a writer's work and reputation.
Now, however, I do believe that statement has validity.
I still reject the notion of an "official" blacklist--much
too sinister--but certainly there is some entrenched resentment
there, no other way to account for the many manifestations
of recalcitrant dismissal, despite my being the first
novelist to receive PEN-USA West's Lifetime Achievement
Award, and being the recipient of a second lifetime achievement
honor, the William Whitehead Award, given through the
Publishing Triangle in New York last year; despite my
work's being translated into 20 languages, taught in universities
throughout the country and Europe.
writer of comparable recognition be ignored in your Book
the first reviewer of my first novel (City of Night)
went so far as to question my existence in the New
York Review of Books. I was young then, baffled by
the personal attack, and I did not protest. Since then,
I've learned to breach the ancient admonition that a writer
must never challenge mistreatment.
It must have
been clear to you, Mr. McGrath, that I was not so much
soliciting a review--which, in asking, I was guaranteeing
to be dismissive and negative it there would be one--as
I was asserting pride in my work.
I am proud
of my work, novels, non-fiction, plays, essays. I've written
about night-streets, drag queens, hustlers, figures who
haunt my novels as they do my memories. I've also reinterpreted
the war in heaven, retold the stories of Adam and Eve,
Medea, Jesus and Judas, Helen of Troy, etc. I've documented
a day in the life of a Mexican-American maid demanding
a miracle. I've explored the legend of Marilyn Monroe.
I've followed four Texas teenagers so bruised that they
set out to stop feeling. With acknowledged arrogance (the
act of artistic creation is not humble), I can say that,
viewed without prejudice, my body of work can hold its
own among the work of my contemporaries.
finally, only the work matters. Reviews and reviewers
fade, remembered, if at all, in footnotes about their
I find vast
irony in the fact that the same resentments that I and
my work aroused when I was in my 30's are still being
stirred in the same quarters as I approach age 70.
I thank you again for the courtesy you initially extended
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Original material by John Rechy appears
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