Friday, July 24, 2009
Long before the secret world of closeted black gay men came to light in America, bestselling author E. Lynn Harris introduced a generation of black women to the phenomenon known as the "down low."
Harris endeared such characters to readers who were otherwise unfamiliar with them, using themes and backdrops familiar to urban professionals, conditioned by their upbringings, their church leaders or their friends to condemn and criticize homosexuality in the African-American community. A proud Razorback cheerleader at the University of Arkansas who struggled with his own sexuality before becoming a pioneer of gay black fiction, Harris died Thursday at age 54 while promoting his latest book in Los Angeles.
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.
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."
In 15 years, Harris became the genre's most successful author, penning 11 titles, ten of them New York Times bestsellers. More than four million of his books are in print.
McMillan had just spoken to Harris about a week ago, to tell him she would pay tribute to him in her upcoming book by having a character read one of his titles, "And This Too Shall Pass."
"He was thrilled," McMillan said. "I loved his spirit and generosity. I loved that he found his own niche in the world of fiction, and I'm grateful to have known him. This just breaks my heart."
He went on to mainstream success with works such as the novel "Love of My Own" and the memoir "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted." MORE