Birth Place: Chicago, IL
Current Residence: Living in Los Angeles, but relocating to New York in August.
Martial Status: In a 7-year committed relationship with Reny Santos.
When were you first published?
A magazine named EMMCA when I was 21 years old first professionally published me. It was a serial entitled “Family.”
Under what circumstances?
While I was professionally acting, everyone knew that I was trying to break into professional writing. I was always writing little plays for different theatre companies that hired me as an actor.
Where did you find the inspiration for your books?
My first novel “Diva” (Holloway House 1988) was inspired by the frustration I experienced in reading Sidney Sheldon. Back in the day I loved reading Sidney Sheldon, with all the jet-setting glamour, international intrigue, money, show-biz, etc. But there were never any black characters. Well, being in show business, I knew of plenty of jet-setting black folks, and have personally experienced those fabulous nude swimming parties at the homes of wealthy black folk, and the old school orgies of the 60’s and 70’s, the extravagance of black Hollywood and Broadway, I wanted to write our big glam book. So I did.
“In Search of Pretty Young Black Men” (Atria/ Simon and Schuster 2005) was my continued exploration of the black upper middle class of Baldwin Hills, California, which began with my play “Ritual,” which later became a film. I think I had more fun writing “Search” than any of my books because it is just so naughty, and contains so many twists and turns that it’ll make you jump up and slap yo’ mama. It won the 2005 N.Y Hotep Award for Best Gay Novel, even though it’s not really a gay novel.
“Looker” (Atria/Simon and Schuster 2007) is a sentimental favorite. It contains some of my best writing, and I was able to explore the lives of dozens of different kinds of black people with great depth who are all inter-related—gay, straight, lesbian, transgender, bi, thug, bourgeois, old, young. It is a love song to the beautiful and complicated black people who, though a numerical minority in the city of Los Angeles, wield a great deal of power and influence.
“House of John” my novella that appears in “Visible Lives” (Kensington Books 2010) is a deeply personal story. And it is my most autobiographical. It is a hopelessly romantic tale of how the great love affair between my partner and me began. I’m already hard at work on the sequel.
What is your earliest memory of being a writer?
I started playing the piano by ear when I was eight years old. I was also writing little poems when I was in elementary school. When I was twelve I wrote, composed, produced, directed, and starred in this little musical review. We performed it in our living room and sold tickets to everyone in the neighborhood. My parents were extremely supportive of anything I did. They always told people that I was “special.” They were very supportive of the arts. I learned so much from my mother about classical music, and my father was a real jazz buff. We always had a piano in the house. When I started playing, they were just thrilled. There were eight of us kids, and we had a great time, but I think the best time was when I took my three younger sisters and transformed them into The Supremes, with all the moves and everything. God, I was such a little queen, and loved every minute of it. Later, I was editor of my Junior High School newspaper and editor of my high school paper. I was president of the Drama Club and president of the chess club, and wrote a lot of the programs for the school, including a stage adaptation of “A Patch of Blue.” And then I wrote this crazy play called “The Armageddon Prelude” which was the story of how Satan officiated over the sexual union of America and the Catholic Church. It almost got me kicked out of school. But because I was an honor student and a member of the Knights honor society, and I also challenged the school with possibly violating my Fifth Amendment rights, they backed down. This was in 1967. I was always very outspoken. I’ve been openly gay since 1969. I never went to college. I started acting on stage, television and in film right out of high school. Every time I would try and enroll in college, I would land a part that would shoot on location and take me out of the city, so I think it just wasn’t meant to be for me. But today, you can’t get away with that. These days a college degree is what a high school degree used to be. There’s not much you can do without an education. I was very lucky to have had such a wonderful career without a degree. What are the odds?
Please describe your current or most recent project. Include a brief overview, your motivation for the project, and any notable challenges you encountered.
“Visible Lives” of course is the most recent, but my latest play “Armstrong’s Kid” has been playing off and on for the last 2 years. We’re about to do another production of it in Oakland, CA in September.
When and where did you first meet Mr. E. Lynn Harris?
I first net E. Lynn Harris around 1991, when I was publishing and editing SBC magazine, at the time the most widely distributed periodical for the Black LGBT community. He was just getting popular. I can’t remember exactly where and when we met, but I was interested in interviewing all the Black LGBT authors, since so many of them weren’t getting very much play in the white gay press. Over the years I published several interviews on E. Lynn, but what I enjoyed most were our warm telephone conversations. It was such a warm and giving person. I saw very little personality change in him from my earliest meeting with him to my last.
Who came up with the title “Visible Lives”?
Actually our publishers, Kensington Books, came up with the title. Between the three of us, (Stanley Bennett Clay, James Earl Hardy and Terrance Dean) we through a lot of titles around, when Kensington suggested “Visible Lives” we knew it was the right one.
How do you identify and nurture ideas for new projects?
I’m usually working on 3-4 projects at a time. When I get an idea a proposal for a particular project, I simply file it in that project’s folder. When I have a deadline, I drop everything else, and just concentrate on that project to completion. I’m a pretty prolific and focused writer, and since it is my livelihood, I treat it with great occupational respect. Like I always say, if I don’t write I don’t eat. On the other hand, all my projects are my toys in my sandbox, and I play with them as such. Some longer than others, all at the same time, continually change my mind on which one I want to play with next.
Please describe 1-3 authors/writers/performers that have influenced your artistic style?
Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams, John Updike. All these writers go being mere story telling. They are all poets. I love fiction that is poetically written. To me, what the story is about is not as important as how it is told.
What 2 books and 2 CDs should everyone own?
Toni Morison’s “Sula” (or maybe “Love.” I’m torn between the two. I think I read both of these books at least once a year) and John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden” (forget the movie, the 600 plus page epic story telling is mesmerizing).
Do you believe African American authors have an obligation to the African American community? Why or why not?
I think every author should be true to him or herself. Now I happen to think that self-interest, culture, personal desires, etc. influence most writers. I love writing about the African American experience, not because I feel obligated, but because it is who I am, and, quite frankly, I like writing about me and my family and my culture. Now I’ve been asked, why don’t I write about the street, the hood, the ghetto? Well, that’s not me, nor do I find any interest in that. You have to write what you know, or at least, what you like. I am the product of my upbringing. My parents were the most loving couple and nurturing parents on earth. It used to really piss me off that nobody ever wrote story about my parents, or their friends, who were very much like them. But in our society, unless some black man is kicking his woman’s ass, or abandoning his children, or telling their children they’ll never amount to anything, they’re not considered that interesting. It’s easy to get precious published, but for those precious little gems black family love, publication is an uphill battle.
What is the biggest misconception about you and/or your work?
Oh, I once read that I had died. That was interesting. And what was great about it was fact the author of the obit was so sweet. It doesn’t happen as much anymore, but for the longest time, especially when I was on TV, it was amazing how many girls would come on to me, or wouldn’t believe me, even after I told them I was gay. That’s when I started taking my boyfriend with me everywhere I went, even on the set.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Write! Don’t just think about writing. Put pen to paper and write! And, for God’s sake, stop walking around talking about that fucking masterpiece you have in your head. That’s pure masturbation; a temporary thrill for a party of one. What separates a writer from everyone else is that everyone has ideas, wonderful ideas, brilliant ideas, but only a writer has the skills, the talent, the discipline, the work-ethic, the drive, and the obsessive determination to put it down on paper
To purchase to “Visible Lives” click here: http://www.amazon.com/Visible-Lives-Stories-Tribute-Harris/dp/0758255756