This month’s reflection:
Remembering E. Lynn Harris
June 20, 1955 – July 23, 2009
The late E. Lynn Harris was one of my favorite contemporary authors of gay and bisexual fiction. His stories first came to my attention in the early 1990’s and he remains one of my all-time favorite fiction writers to this day, despite his sudden death in the summer of July, 2009. His novels entertained and introduced modern readers to the almost invisible lives of Black same gender loving (gay) and Black dual gender loving (bisexual) men during a time when there were, literally, very few examples of them in any form of print media.
I was first introduced to E. Lynn Harris by my friend, Keith Cuffee, during the summer of 1994. We were in DuPont Circle in northwest Washington, D. C., and Keith noticed a man reading one of his books. He stopped and talked to this man and then rejoined me explaining that he just had to find a copy of his book. As we walked over to Lambda Rising Bookstore (since closed) on Connecticut Avenue, he began sharing that Mr. Harris was a new African-American author who was writing of black gay life in particular and gay life in general with the then-current “down-low” discussion raging through the African-American community.
We arrived at the bookstore and were unable to find a copy of Invisible Life, Harris’ first published title. Inquiring at the checkout counter, Keith was informed that they were sold out of copies but an additional order was expected soon. We both placed orders for the title and then continued to browse the bookstore and eventually resumed our way throughout the DuPont Circle shops and neighborhood. Dupont Circle is Washington, D. C.’s gayest area and there is always something to explore and people to watch.
About a month later, I received notification that my copy of Invisible Life had arrived. I contacted Keith and he agreed to pick up my copy for me as he was on this way to retrieve his order. We decided to meet later at a restaurant in Arlington that is convenient for us both. We met and ate. I got my book and we parted ways. Little did I know then that this was the last time I would ever see my friend, Keith. He didn’t die, he just very abruptly left the area and somehow managed to fall off of the planet without keeping in communication with anyone.
E. Lynn Harris: The Man and Author
E. Lynn Harris (pictured above) was born Everette Lynn Jeter in Flint, Michigan. He moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, with his mother at the age of three years old. Upon his mother’s marriage to Ben Harris, his surname was legally changed. His mother later divorced his stepfather who had abused them both. After the divorce action, he kept his surname the same.
Mr. Harris didn’t graduate university and automatically become a celebrity author. He initially worked as a computer salesman for IBM, AT&T and Hewlett-Packard living in either Dallas, Texas or Washington, D.C. After a period of depression and a failed suicide attempt along with alcoholism, he left the sales industry and began writing.
Unable to secure a book deal with a publishing house for his first book, Invisible Life, he published it himself and sold copies from his automobile. This effort yielded amazing results and he was able to establish a publishing contract with Doubleday for a subsequent printing of Invisible Life and all of his following works.
E. Lynn Harris Bibliography
Invisible Life (self-published, 1991; mass marketed, 1994)
Just As I Am (1995)
And This Too Shall Pass (1997)
If This World Were Mine (1998)
Abide With Me (1999)
Not A Day Goes By (2000)
Any Way The Wind Blows (2002)
A Love Of My Own (2003)
I Say A Little Prayer (2006)
Just Too Good To Be True (2008)
Basketball Jones (2009) – published just before Mr. Harris’ death
Mama Dearest (2009, posthumously released)
In My Father’s House (2010, posthumously released)
Three of his novels, Just As I Am (1995), Any Way The Wind Blows (2002) and A Love Of My Own (2003) were honored with the Blackboard Novel of the Year Award in the year they were published. The Blackboard Award salutes African-American writers in three categories: fiction (adult), nonfiction (adult) and children’s titles.
In 1998, his new novel, If This World Were Mine, was the recipient of that year’s James Baldwin Award for Literary Excellence. This prize is distributed annually to the best of Black GLBTQ authors for exceptional writing.
A total of ten of his novels (listed with cover photos above) appeared on the New York Times (USA) Bestseller Lists. Quite an accomplishment for an obscure African-American author who began his writing career marketing his book from his own personal vehicle. As an openly gay man of African descent he didn’t “dodge the label” at a time when many of his same gender loving brethren within the Black community were deep into denial. He was out of the proverbial closet and into the forefront of the Black communities struggle with accepting gay African-American men as their own. He was a trailblazer and a role model for not only GLBTQ African-Americans but for the entire GLBTQ community in general.
In 2003, Mr. Harris published the above title, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted. This was a nonfiction account of his life. including his early abuse from his step-father. Largely autobiographical, it was promoted as his early memoir. Sadly for his fans, of which I am one (thanks to my friend, Keith), it was to be his only memoir.
I remember the day that Mr. Harris died. I was at work, in my office. I had just taught my last class for the day and was settling into my chair for my posted office hours. I turned on my computer and saw the notice on my news feed that E. Lynn Harris had been found dead in Los Angeles. I quickly scanned the article and sat back in disbelief. I was stunned! I immediately sent a text to my friend Jason (Jay) – to read my posts on how we met, click here and here. He was as shocked as me. The first day that I met Jay, what opened our conversation was the topic of our favorite same gender loving (gay) authors and E. Lynn Harris was at the top of the list for the both of us.
At the time of his death, E. Lynn Harris was only 54 years old. He had many more novels left to write. This year being the 9th anniversary of his death, my thoughts naturally turn to him at the end of July.