Saturday, July 25, 2009
Author E. Lynn Harris Dead at 54
Author E. Lynn Harris , bestselling novelist, died Thursday night, July 23 at 54. He introduced millions of readers to the life of African-American homosexual men. Through writing, he was able to deal with his depression over hiding his homosexuality. He sold more than three million copies of novels concerning African-American professionals in dramatic circumstances. According to Publisher’s Weekly Alissa Quart, he was “the bestselling African-American male novelist of the 90’s.” Harris’ series of novels focused on affluent African-American male professionals who were complex characters in dramatic romances. His tales featured African-American men who dated women, but also carried on hidden relationships with other men. His first novel, Invisible Life, was semi-autobiographical and was initially rejected by several publishers. Harris decided to self-publish the novel by using his own savings and money raised from AIDS organizations. This novel was a metaphor for the hidden life of closeted homosexuals and bi-sexual African-Americans. Later, Harris reached a large audience and became a well-known name in African-American fiction. Harris’ 2003 memoir, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted, contained painful stories of child abuse, alcoholism, depression and the struggles of being a closeted African-American homosexual.
E. Lynn Harris was born in Flint, Michigan in the summer of 1955. At age three, he moved to Little Rock, Arkansas with his mother. His stepfather, Ben Harris, was physically and verbally abusive. He would later write stories of the abuse in his memoir. His mother, Etta, divorced his stepfather when E. Lynn Harris was 13.
Harris attended high school in Little Rock, Arkansas. He secretly believed he was gay and attended gay pride dances at George Washington University while on a brief internship for low-income African-Americans. He attended University of Arkansas at Fayetteville where he was a cheerleader and the first African-American yearbook editor. He casually dated women but had a more significant secret romance with a male athlete. This relationship was to inspire the subject matter for the novel Invisible Life.
Harris graduated in 1977 with a degree in journalism. However, he later got a job as a salesman for IBM in Dallas. He was introduced to social circles and a lifestyle that defined his life and his fiction for years to come. He frequented a gay club in Dallas, which he kept secret from his straight friends. He lived in Chicago and Washington, D.C. while continuing to work in computer sales. He struggled with alcoholism, difficult romantic relationships and depression while trying to keep his straight friends and gay friends separate.
Invisible Life featured the main character, Raymond Winston Tyler, Jr. who was a bisexual African-American lawyer and Harris’ alter ego. He told the Detroit Free Press, “I gave Raymond the life I would have wanted for myself.” “Two parents who adored me, middle-class lifestyle, popularity.” Invisible Life quickly became popular in Atlanta, and an article in an Atlantic newspaper helped Harris get the attention of a publisher and agent. And This Too Shall Pass, which was on the New York Times bestseller list, featured a star athlete accused of rape. He won the James Baldwin Award for Literary Excellence with, If This World Were Mine, a novel about four friends and secrets they write about in a journal writing group. Abide With Me was the final book in the trilogy that began with Invisible Life. Not A Day Goes By, published in 2000 and Any Way The Wind Blows, published in 2001, both debuted at number two on the New York Times bestseller list.
Harris’ tales of his friends and romantic relationships has made him an extremely popular author with a wide audience. These are high drama tales that keep pages turning and readers interested. According to the Detroit Free Press journalist, “Though the characters were fictional-sort of-the soap opera-like drama in their lives was so real it kept readers talking long after they’d finish the last pages.”
E. Lynn Harris will be greatly missed for his novels of vivid detail and dramatic romance.
Please visit your library for more information:
Biography Resource Center
Official Website of E. Lynn Harris