It was an unseasonably warm March day in 1996 and Men of Color Detroit had co-sponsored an evening with E.Lynn Harris where he read from then latest book "Just As I Am", his follow up to "Invisible Life" a book original self published in 1991 but picked up by Doubleday's Anchor Books in 1994. I had first learned about the books from several women I knew at Ford Motor Company... It seemed at one point that every woman in Ren Cen's tower 400 had a copy of it... I was also aware of the quiet chatter about the books content and being intrigued by its story line. I quickly read each book and fell in love with the characters of Raymond and Nicole and even more by Raymond's friend Kyle. Kyle was a big hearted, live life to its fullest character who by most standards would be considered a flamboyant queen. His every description reminded me of my friend and lover Perry Hamilton. Kyle dies from AIDS in the second book and It fully brought back all of my feelings about my recent loss of Perry for the same reason. It was as if E. Lynn had ripped a chapter from my own life!
E.Lynn Harris and my friend from work Kinnet who was simply thrilled to meet the author!
But that was the whole success of E. Lynn Harris's books, they reminded each of us about our own lives as the characters were every day people caught up in the insanity of relationships in the big city! I had been to Keller's and Two Potato's on Christopher Street in New York... Again I feel as if I had walked in the shoes of many of the people in his books. E. Lynn went on to pen 14 books(many which appeared on NY Times Best Seller List) that dealt with relationships that spanned the spectrum, straight, bi, gay... His writing of these complicated interactions were some of the first to define the down low way before the overly sensationalized and stigmatized versions by J.L. King. Harris's subject matter was an un-afraid conversation, an approach that side stepped creating negative stereotypes about bi-sexual and gay men of color. No matter who you were you fell in love with each of the characters in the book and I would say that in doing so E. Lynn build many bridges of understanding between straight and especially the black gay community.
Charles and Mark were caught up in the mood of the day...
Given how his work affected me, meeting E. Lynn was definitely a highlight in my life. So it saddens me today to find out that his literary voice has been silenced as E. Lynn Harris passed away yesterday at the age of 54. The Los Angles Times Obituary called E. Lynn Harris, a pioneer of gay black fiction and a literary entrepreneur who rose from self-publishing to best-selling status. Publicist Laura Gilmore said Harris died Thursday night after being stricken at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, and a cause of death had not been determined. She said Harris, who lived in Atlanta, fell ill on a train to Los Angeles a few days ago and blacked out for a few minutes, but seemed fine after that. Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter said only that a man matching Harris' name and date of birth had died Thursday night at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
An improbable and inspirational success story, Harris worked for a decade as an IBM executive before taking up writing, selling the novel "Invisible Life" from his car as he visited salons and beauty parlors around Atlanta. He had unprecedented success for an openly gay black author and his strength as a romance writer led some to call him the "male Terry McMillan." His writing fell into several genres, including gay and lesbian fiction, African American fiction and urban fiction. But he found success in showing readers a new side of African American life: the secret world of professional, bisexual black men living as heterosexuals.
"He was a pioneering voice within the black LGBT community but also resonated with mainstream communities, regardless of race and sexual orientation," said Herndon Davis, a gay advocate and a diversity media consultant in Los Angeles. "Harris painted with eloquent prose and revealing accuracy the lives of African American men and the many complicated struggles they face d reconciling their sexuality and spirituality while rising above societal taboos within the black community." His 1994 debut, "Invisible Life," was a coming-of-age story that dealt with the then-taboo topic.
"If you were African American and you were gay, you kept your mouth shut and you went on and did what everybody else did," he said. "You had girlfriends, you lived a life that your parents had dreamed for you."
Harris was not living as an openly gay man when "Invisible Life" was published, and could not acknowledge the parallels between himself and the book.
"People would often ask, 'Is this book about you?' I didn't want to talk about that," he said. "I wasn't comfortable talking about it. I would say that this is a work of fiction."
Harris said that the courage readers got from the book em powered him to be honest about himself. He continued to tell stories dealing with similar issues, to tell black middle class readers about people they knew, but who were living secret lives.
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