In Memoriam: E. Lynn Harris

Popular gay author, E. Lynn Harris, who was role model to many young writers, has died.

The 54-year-old Atlanta resident died on Thursday July 23 in Los Angeles of a heart attack a week after he fell ill on a train. Mr. Harris wrote books which focused on race and sexuality. His books told very graphic tales which followed the lives of powerful black men who ranged from athletes, businessmen, doctors, and lawyers each of whom struggled with their sexuality in the phenomena known as the DL, (down-low) as presumably heterosexual men who slept with gay men.

Described by many in the gay community as an “all around friendly and gentle person,” Mr. Harris will be remembered for his meteoric rise to fame. He wrote 11 books including his highly successful debut novel, “Invisible Life” which he self-published in 1991.

I remember Lynn’s early days, when he maintained a Chicago residence, he sold books from his car’s trunk,” said longtime friend and activist Kevin Tindell of Chicago. “I was not aware that he had any health problems, his death is a shock to all who knew him, it’s yet another example of gone too soon.”

Mr. Harris wrote 10 consecutive books which landed on the best sellers list of many prominent publications including The Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly and the New York Times. His top sellers were, “Just as I Am,” “If This World Were Mine,” “Any Way the Wind Blows,” and his memoir “What Becomes of The Brokenhearted.” His works also appeared in magazines such as Essence, Washington Post Sunday Magazine and Sports Illustrated.

Mr. Harris was known to work a rigorous appearance schedule; he was promoting his most current novel, “Basketball Jones,” which according to published reports was an autobiographical account of his affair with a closeted athlete. Most recently he was seen in Miami at Dwight Powell Productions’ Sizzle Miami, a “gay pride-like” circuit event which took place this past Memorial Day Weekend.

Sizzle employee, Jerry Boles of Jerry Boles Photography, sang the praises of Mr. Harris’ charming personality. “He always had something profound to say, I remember how he talked about the concept of self-hatred in the gay community. He talked about ending the so-called no fats, no fems rule of finding Mr. Right,” said Mr. Boles. “E. Lynn explained that we’re looking all around for Mr. Right and fail to realize that he’s standing right in front of us, we’re already surrounded by beautiful black gay men.”

Mr. Harris was born in Flint, Michigan and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas; throughout the course of his life he maintained dual residences in cities such as New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, and Fayetteville, Ark. He is survived by mother and three sisters. Although he never considered himself a literary author, Mr. Harris won numerous awards for his work Just As I Am won the Novel of the Year by Blackboard African-American Bestsellers, his anthology Freedom In this Village: 25 Years of Black Gay Men’s Writings won the Lambda Literary Award.

The Lambda Literary Awards recognizes the achievements of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender literature, Charles Flowers is the Executive Director. Flowers worked closely with Mr. Harris for over a decade and developed a personal friendship. “I am surprised by his death,” he said. “He had a very big heart, which he reveals in his books, he will be missed.”

According to Mr. Harris’ web site, a memorial service is planned for Atlanta some time next month.