Sunday, January 13, 2013

Out Spotlight

Today's Out Spotlight authored ten consecutive books to make The New York Times Best Seller list making him among the most successful African American or gay authors of his era.  Today's Out Spotlight is E. Lynn Harris.

Everette "E." Lynn Harris  was born Everette Lynn Jeter in Flint, Michigan, June 20, 1955.  At the age of three Harris moved to Little Rock, Arkansas. After his mother's marriage to Ben Harris, his surname was changed to Harris and by the time he was 13 years old, his mother divorced his stepfather who had abused Harris for years.  Growing up he also lived in Houston, Atlanta, and Fayetteville, Arkansas. In his writings, he maintained a poignant motif, occasionally emotive, that incorporated vernacular and slang from popular culture and the places he lived.

Harris became the first black male cheerleader as well as the first black yearbook editor while attending the University of Arkansas. He was also his college's chapter president of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. After graduation, he became a computer salesman with IBM, AT&;T, and Hewlett-Packard for 13 years living in Dallas, Texas, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. In 1990, Harris attempted suicide during a dark phase of depression and heavy drinking but later found the will to live in his writing. He left his career as a salesman quitting in order to begin writing his first novel.  Initially he was unable to land a book deal with a publishing house for his first work, Invisible Life, so he published it himself and sold copies from his car trunk to hair salons and bookstores. 

Openly gay, he was best known for his depictions of African American men who were on the down-low and closeted.

His first novel, Invisible Life finished in 1991, was a coming of age story dealing with then-taboo topics. Most important was that it openly questioned sexual identity and told the story of main character Raymond Tyler. Tyler, torn between his married male lover and girlfriend Nicole, is a New York attorney struggling with identifying as a bisexual black man. He ultimately settles into a gay life style, while much of the novel is dedicated to Tyler's reflection on that choice.

The book rose quickly  to the top of the Blackboard Bestseller List of African-American titles.  After the success of his first book, Doubleday signed Harris and became his long-term publishing company.

" 'Invisible Life' had to be the first book out of me,” Harris said. “It helped me deal with my own sexuality.”
 He went on to write a string of best sellers

  • Just As I Am (1995), winner of Blackboard's Novel of the Year Award
  • And This Too Shall Pass (1997)
  • If This World Were Mine (1998), winner of James Baldwin Award for Literary Excellence
  • Abide With Me (1999)
  • Not A Day Goes By (2000)
  • Money Can't Buy Me Love (2000) (Short Story)
    • From the Book Got to Be Real – 4 Original Love Stories by Eric Jerome Dickey, Marcus Major, E. Lynn Harris and Colin Channer
  • Any Way the Wind Blows (2002), winner of Blackboard's Novel of the Year Award* A Love Of My Own (2003), winner of Blackboard's Novel of the Year Award
  • A Love of My Own (2003)
  • What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted – A Memoir (2003)
  • Freedom in This Village: Twenty-Five Years of Black Gay Men's Writing, 1979 to the Present (editor, 2005)
  • I Say a Little Prayer (2006)
  • Just Too Good To Be True (2008)
  • Basketball Jones (2009)
  • Mama Dearest (2009) (Posthumously Released)
  • In My Father's House (2010) (Posthumously Released)
A Love of My Own is Harris' 2003 novel, which won him his second Blackboard's 'Novel of the Year Award',  details a year in the lives of several characters living in New York. It is narrated alternately by Zola Norwood, editor of a Hip Hop magazine, and Raymond Tyler Jr., the magazine's CEO. It deals with both the trials and tribulations of the characters' love and work lives against the back drop of the cultural and political events of 2001 and 2002.

Alongside fiction, Harris had also penned a personal memoir, What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted: A Memoir.  It is Harris' autobiographical reflection. It concerns the rise of a small town boy to a successful writer; detailing Harris' battle with depression and 'coming out' experience as a gay African American.

He wrote more than a dozen novels and paved the way for the next generation of African-American novelists. His books are accessible to the masses and appeal to a diverse audience. Harris always made time for his fans, whom he said changed his life. He would answer up to 200 e-mails from readers every day.

Harris received numerous awards. His honors include three Blackboard Novel of the Year Awards, the James Baldwin Award for Literacy Excellence and three nominations for NAACP Image Awards
Harris died on July 23, 2009 while in Los Angeles for a business meeting. He was found unconscious at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, and was pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.  An autopsy determined that the cause of death was heart disease. That same day, Harris had fallen ill on the train to Los Angeles and blacked out but was fine after, according to his publicist.

As a tribute to Harris, upon the posthumous release of Mama Dearest, several friends and authors came together to perform a tribute tour in his honor. Eric Jerome Dickey, RM Johnson, Tracie Howard, Tina McElroy Ansa, Clarence Nero, and Laura Gilmore hosted the release event on September 22, 2009 at Outwrite Book in Atlanta.  Other events where hosted on September 25, 2009 in New York City, Dallas, and other cities around the United States by authors such as Dr. Bertice Berry, Kimberla Lawson Roby, Victoria Christopher Murray, ReShonda Tate Billingsley, Mary B. Morrison and more.

“I want people to know they don’t have to live their lives in a permanent ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ existence. 
Truth is a powerful tool.”


Special K said...

This is what Frank Bruni of the NY Times wrote about Jodi's speech

It's precisely BECAUSE Jodie Foster's coming-out --- if that's what it was --- had such a stop-start, am-I-doing-this, I'm-scared-but-determined quality to it that it was so powerful. She made a beautiful point about privacy. She made clear how tough her road and even that moment was. In its incomplete and fuzzy way, her speech was as true a testament as I've ever seen/heard to the fear, loneliness and stubborn hope of someone who doesn't feel she owes the world clarity or an answer but feels she owes herself, and history, and the political moment, some kind of truth. Jodie had weeks to rehearse, but worked through all of that in real time, onstage, before our eyes. Wow.

prairiegirl said...

It was something. You had a sense that she was about to do something very big and the crowd was riveted.

I could even hear her breath shaking and that just has to be such a huge thing, I don't care how "well known" it is to her peers or to her fans. That was huge for her kids as well.

I am very happy for her. She said something very touching about not wanting to feel so alone anymore and that was Jodie the person speaking not an actor. Very moving and it was just really courageous.

the real m said...

As usual, I did not watch the awards but ill try to catch the highlights on YouTube tomorrow.

He answered 200 fan emails very day? Wow. That takes some effort.

prairiegirl said...

Very good Spotlight. I've not heard of him but that doesn't surprise me as I am not up on writers at all. I enjoyed his story nonetheless though!

Well, I had a very bad, sad day today. I no sooner had come in after being off for 1 1/2 days and I learned my big buddy turned in his notice to take another job. I'm so sad.

I always get along so well with my bunker mates and while it's been tough to lose some of them, I hate to lose this one. He was so funny and we had a great time working together. He was so smart, too, a real IT brain.

I hate losing co workers. You never know who you're going to get to replace and the work pool out there has been not too good.

It's going to be tough these next couple of weeks, although busy ones so they'll likely go very fast.

A very tough loss to take. :*(