We were in Harry Potter all morning (it's a long movie!), so I just found out about E. Lynn Harris' death a couple of hours ago. For those who don't know, Harris was a fabulous openly gay African-American author known for tackling difficult topics like homophobia, religion, bisexuality, and men on the down low in the Black community. He was hugely popular, and his books were often found in the African American section as opposed to just the LGBT section, which I always thought was awesome because it probably meant more people read his books than might have otherwise. It also meant that stores like Wal-Mart (yeah, I know, evil, but...)carried them, which made them available to people in small towns that may not have had access to a bookstore or a library that stocked them (like Thomasville, AL, where I got one of his late books). His eleventh book, Basketball Jones, was published earlier this year, and he was on tour promoting it when he had a heart attack. The last time a writer's passing affected me this much was Kurt Vonnegut...so, you may be asking, why would a non-Black girl from Alabama love E. Lynn Harris so much?
I will admit that I haven't kept up with his books over the last couple of years. They make my to-read list, but lack of time has made that list very long. His first novel, Invisible Life, was the first gay book I ever read. I was fourteen years old, crazy religious, and just realizing I was gay when I stumbled on Invisible Life in my little small town library. At the time, I was still convinced that I was going to hell because I liked girls. You cannot imagine how comforting it was to live in Harris' characters' lives for a while. They were gay and bisexual and struggling with what the world and their families would think. They were so real to me. It took a few more years after reading it before I finally accepted myself, but I always carried the memory of that book with me. To this day, I can still remember what the cover looked like and exactly where it was on the shelf. Almost every stamp on the library card was mine. What's crazy is I don't think I reread it that many times. Sometimes, I would check it out just to have it. I guess it was comforting in some way to have proof that I wasn't alone in my struggle.
I wish that I had written or emailed him to let him know how much I loved his books years ago. Well, thanks E. Lynn, wherever you are...
E. Lynn Harris.com