Monday, July 27, 2009

Remembering Author E. Lynn Harris

It was 1994, and I can't remember if I'd come to DC for Black Gay Pride weekend or was simply in town to go clubbing, but I do remember a group of us going to Lambda Rising bookstore. Someone in the group mentioned the novel Invisible Life, which I wasn't familiar with, and the conversation became animated. I was the only one who had neither heard of the book, nor read it, and the premise sounded fascinating, an exploration of the world of black gay men.

I read half of the book in the car on the way back to Richmond (I've always been a rather fast reader of fiction; with history, I make it a point to take more time); it was a captivating read. The protagonist was the good looking, middle class, future second generation attorney Raymond Winston Tyler, Jr. Through an encounter with a fellow college student, Tyler discovered that he was not entirely straight, and the novel follows him to New York City where he deals with Columbia Law School and a struggle to accept who he is.

E. Lynn Harris' books provided me with a break from my studies in history in the mid '90s and early 2000s. Harris brought to life a world of upwardly mobile gay and bisexual black men, a world virtually ignored in both African American and GLBT fiction. Harris' books reminded me that I was not alone out there, and explored the difficulties that can come when black and gay are housed in one body.

Harris became wildly popular with black women, and I have to admit that I was always puzzled by that. Perhaps it gave women a window into a world that they really didn't know existed. Harris created characters who were dealing with both men and women, some openly, many more secretively. Harris' popularity with black women came pretty close to the popularity of Terry MacMillan (and both interestingly and sadly, MacMillan's life seemed to become something akin to a Harris plot, when her husband revealed that he was gay himself).

Harris brought to the forefront the lives of black gay and bisexual men; he provided a window into a world that so many seem either to ignore or dismiss. He certainly caught my attention. Harris made me laugh with his constant food descriptors for his characters. There was one who was biscuit brown, another who looked like a Barbie doll dipped in chocolate, and another who was honey brown. At the very least, I was convinced that Harris loved food.

Though I haven't read all of his works, I've read and enjoyed many. E. Lynn Harris will be missed greatly, and I think that a fitting legacy to his effort to show us the world of black gay and bisexual men would be for someone finally to bring Invisible Life and the second novel Just As I Am to the big screen.


Anonymous said...

as usual your "blog" changes topik wildly every three minutes according to whatever the wire services put out there--and then you do a shallow re-hashing of that topic while losing all interest in your blog's previous topics (you know, ANCIENTS ones from three or 4 days ago) whose threads are left in the dust.

Maybe you could call this the "Superficial Negro Salon"

Merrick said...

Thanks Jeff for your insight about E. Lynn Harris. I appreciate your breaking news items for those of us who don't have time to sit all day and monitor others blogs.

As for the previous anonymous commenter, you certainly have a choice when choosing to read blogs, perhaps this isn't the one to give you what you need. Or, maybe just a thought, write what you want to see and satisfy your own blog appetite.

Anonymous said...

This salon is crowded with great topics, interesting thoughts, and delightfully tangential asides!

The reader's comments range from dismally bitchy to the arrestingly thought provoking.

Keep all the plates spinning, and don't hesitate to add another one!

This blog is vastly more intellectual than what most stories on the wire could be if allowed more space. I'm just sayin'...

Carlos said...

Jeff this is awesome! It's the first blog that I've read by you. I feel interested in taking a closer look at E. Lynn Harris' writings and maybe we'll someday have a chat about them. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Is this Internet "salon" only for those who already agree with the views of the host(it appears a lot of folks already know each other...)and post their comments in white-gloves-and-party-manners language?

Last I heard, opposing dialogue and constructive critique were endemic to meaningful discourse.

Just askin'

Anonymous said...

I agree with the anonymous poster. Not a lot of original thought, just posts about existing stories. That's fine, but it strikes me that the author is striving to be an intellectual, but failing.
And the author, if he were truly an intellectual (which I by no means think is something to strive for, necessarily) would accept the criticism instead of whining to his friends about it.

hscfree said...

I have always welcomed legitimate and well reasoned commentary regardless of perspective, left or right. There have been fun and interesting debates within the comments section of this blog for a bit now.

The format here has worked well, and I will continue it until I feel change is warranted.

Therefore, if you have a comment about say E. Lynn Harris, then make it. If we are lucky, then others will join in.

Anonymous said...

You write: "I have always welcomed legitimate and well reasoned commentary regardless of perspective, left or right..."

That may be--but if you unfailingly welcome them, why not unfailingly respond to them?

hscfree said...

When I can, I do. Or, if I think someone else has made the better point. I let it stand.

Mike D. said...

I love when people leave negative messages as 'Anonymous'. Grow a set!

Anonymous said...

Anonymity affords candor and shifts the emphasis from personalities to ideas. This is universally recognized as one of the great, unprecedented strengths of the Internet--so why on WSN is it seen as a weakenss?

Please note that the barbs in this discourse are not all that sharp. Grow a set.

Cleotus Johnson

hscfree said...

For all concerned, I don't mind anonymity. I just want solid comments about the topic at hand, and if we a lucky, a spirited, yet civil, discourse will come to pass.

So, I hope that the next comment on any of those issues I've raised on this blog will actually focus on the subject of the post. If you loved, loathed or didn't know E. Lynn Harris and/or his writings, I would love to hear about it.