Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Born Today In 1955, Best Selling Author E. Lynn Harris

Everette Lynn Harris was born today, June 20, in 1955. He was an out gay author, he was best known for his depictions of African-American men who were on the down-low and closeted. He authored 10 consecutive books that reached The New York Times Best Seller list, making him among the most successful African-American or gay authors of his era.

Born Everette Lynn Jeter in Flint, Michigan, Harris moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, with his mother at the age of 3. Upon his mother's marriage to Ben Harris, his surname was changed to Harris. By the time he was 13 years old, his mother divorced his stepfather who had abused Harris for years.

Harris was one of the first African-American students at Forest Heights Junior High and Hall High School in Little Rock. He became the first black male cheerleader as well as the first black yearbook editor while attending the University of Arkansas. 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 through his writing. Harris relieved himself of his salesman duties and quit in order to begin writing his first novel.

Harris was initially 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. It 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 gay life, while much of the novel is dedicated to Tyler's reflection on that choice.

Alongside fiction, Harris had also penned a personal memoir, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted
It concerns his rise from a small-town boy to a successful writer, detailing his battle with depression and "coming out" experience as a gay African American.

A Love of My Own is Harris' 2003 novel, which won Blackboard's 'Novel of the Year Award.' It 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's love and work lives against the backdrop of the cultural and political events of 2001 and 2002.

Harris died 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 Laura Gilmore.

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