Southwestern American Literature
Southwestern American Literature is a biannual scholarly journal that includes literary criticism, fiction, poetry, and book reviews concerning the Greater Southwest.
Since its inception in 1971, the journal has published premier works by and about some of the most significant writers of the region.
Southwestern American Literature is indexed in The MLA International Bibliography, which can be found in most North American and European higher-education institutions, and Humanities International Complete, which can be found in libraries throughout North America.
© Center for the Study of the Southwest, Texas State University.
Current Issue: Volume 45 | Number 1 - Fall 2019
Past Tense: On Terrence McNally and the Southwest
Editor-In-Chief | John Mckiernan-González
On March 24, 2020, The New York Times announced the death of Terrence McNally. Probably the first Texan celebrity to die of COVID-19, he died quarantined, isolated in a nursing home in Sarasota, Florida. Dying alone provided a recurring theme in the plays, since too many of his friends died of HIV, ignored, and abandoned in HIV wards in public hospitals. Our current response to COVID-19, another pandemic, had him die alone.
McNally never hid his connection to Texas. As he told his interviewer in a recent documentary, “I always remember the hot, humid summer nights in Corpus Christi.” He regularly decried the miseries of growing up gay in “small little towns.” His brother concurred, recalling that “if anyone found out he was gay, they would beat him like a dog.” Both McNallys remembered growing up listening to show tunes and staging musical theatre with friends in their driveway. A gritty industrial city, Corpus Christi provided a heady set of issues with which to start a career as a playwright.
Terrence McNally’s gay cohort came of age in neighborhoods where Black Power, the New Left, and Third World movements started gaining cultural and political prominence. McNally took care to represent the full complexity of the thoughts and desires of people pushed to the margins. His first play, And Things That Go Bump in The Night, featured the first out gay character on Broadway. In the Kiss of the Spider Woman, McNally staged the work of Manuel Puig, another gay, rural migrant obsessed with Hollywood. Puig put together the detention cell conversations between a leftist political activist and an aging drag queen. McNally used these to meditate on culture, fantasy, and politics, all necessary for surviving small town life and political crackdowns.
McNally traced the ways HIV overwhelmed the personal contacts and communities people maintained with their lovers, their exes, and their neighborhoods. In Love! Valour! Compassion! he expressed his fury at the redeeming death sold repeatedly by Hollywood, always blunting the jagged edges of workplace and housing discrimination with happy and cathartic endings.
McNally forces us to consider the pleasures of the flesh, the volatility of desire, the remaking of public personae, the possibility of intimacy and the making of communities in the face of violence. His plays made trauma part of our public lives. Dying away, alone, and quarantined is an unwanted and shared layer of tragedy that too many of us witness at this moment.
- Terrence McNally, And Things That Go Bump in The Night (NY: Dramatists Play Service, 1969)
- Terrence McNally, The Kiss of the Spider Woman: The Musical: Original Cast Recording (London: First Night Records, 1992)
- David Román, Acts of Intervention: Performance, Gay Culture and AIDS (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998)
- Timothy Stewart Winter, Queer Clout: Chicago and the Rise of Gay Politics. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.