| A Writer
The following letter to Rebecca Sinkler from John Rechy
was not mailed. Mr. Rechy had sent a copy to his publisher-editor
and his publicist, and they had written him in alarm that
if he proceeded to write to "the New York Times"--where,
he was told, he was already "blacklisted for previous
protests--he would harm all their writers "past and
present"[sic]. In the interim Ms. Sinkler clumsily
sent Mr. Rechy a form letter in response to a letter he
had not sent! The angry letter that follows from Mr. Rechy,
after the one not mailed, explains the situation, including
her telephone call to him.
Editor, New York Times Book Review
229 West 43rd Street
New York, New York 10036
Dear Ms. Sinkler:
For more than
three months I've been looking forward to each issue of
the "New York Times Book Review," expecting
to see a review of my tenth novel, The Miraculous Day
of Amalia Gómez. This expectation was based
on several facts:
This is the
only book of mine deprived attention in your pages, respectful
attention that began in 1963 with my first novel, City
of Night. Writers often mention me in articles in
your pages--I qualify as a veteran. All that, would lead
me to believe that my new book would receive comparable
attention in under your editorship.
matter of its subject: My new novel is about a 45-year-old
Mexican-American woman living in Los Angeles today with
her family. I'm sure you'll agree that there aren't many
novels about this largely ignored minority, about the
prejudice, bigotry, poverty of a people who still manage
to believe in miracles. When I was a kid, I lived among
families like Amalia's--I'm Mexican-American. In a passage
in my book, a woman who works with Amalia in a sewing
sweatshop, laments she must flee because she's being pursued
by immigration authorities: "It's not difficult to
become invisible when they've never really seen us."
Why the story
about these women and their families should be ignored
by you baffles me, deeply.
last year you front-paged an essay titled-- significantly--"In
Search of the Latino Writer." In it, Earl Shorris
mentioned my importance as a "Chicano writer."
Similarly, in a laudatory review of my new novel, Diane
Lefer in "New York Newsday" called me "the
most successful writer of Mexican-American descent."
I'm included prominently in books on Latino literature;
my new novel is already in the curriculum in Chicano Literature
courses in the University of California at Irvine and
New Mexico University. Shouldn't such a writer expect
a review of his new novel?
made me expect a respectful review: My first novel, City
of Night, is often referred to as a "modern classic."
It has never been out of print, nor have several of my
are required reading in literature courses. I'm in virtually
every volume that purports to discuss "important"
writers--including Martin Seymour-Smith's Writers and
Novelists, The Oxford Companion to American Literature,
Benét's Reader's Encyclopedia. My writing
has been translated into 20 languages. And my new novel
has been widely reviewed in other book supplements, in
every instance praised very highly. Had you chosen to
assign it--I have little doubt--it would have received
of a review was based also on the fact that only a few
months earlier my agent, Georges Borchardt, had sent you
two outlines for proposed articles I thought suitable
for the "Review"--one of them about the imposed
perils of being rigidly identified as a "gay writer."
Along with those outlines were several samples of book
reviews by me that have appeared, often as lead reviews,
in the "Los Angeles Times Book Review" and "Washington
Post Book World." (I've written, too, for "Saturday
Review," "Village Voice," "Mother
Jones," "Nation," others.) Your response
to the proposed articles was negative but courteous, indicating
you'd keep me in mind for reviewing and were "looking
forward" to my new novel.
taught and lectured at Yale, Duke, Occidental College,
UCLA. I'm now on the faculty in the graduate school at
USC. I've been awarded an NEA fellowship. I've twice been
nominated for the "Los Angeles Times" Body of
Work Award (and, yes, I am quite proud of my varied body
of work). My archives are at Boston University.
Of course, my belief in my novel is unaffected by whatever
personal reasons led you to your choice not to review
my book. But obviously you're aware of the importance,
right or wrong, on a book's being reviewed in the "New
York Times Book Review." Admittedly that has only
an immediate impact on a book, a powerful but short-term
effect, because it's based on the power of a newspaper's
name, only that. Literary history exemplifies over and
over that a book and a writer's reputation survive on
their own strength, not the arbitrary decision of one
person. Still the immediate effect may be a strong one
in the present. Because of that, I've gone against the
advice of all my professional associates to write this
letter--I see no reason whatever why writers should not
And I do protest,
Ms. Sinkler, on behalf of myself as a serious writer,
a veteran of the literary wars for 30 years; but, more,
I protest on behalf of the characters in my book, especially
my Amalia, and the still-largely "invisible"
people I wrote about.
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Original material by John Rechy appears
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