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Atlanta author E. Lynn Harris dead at age 54

Atlanta author E. Lynn Harris

Atlanta author E. Lynn Harris

Atlanta author E. Lynn Harris died Friday at age 54 during a west coast book tour.

In a statement to the AJC, Alison Rich, Doubleday executive director of publicity said: “We at Doubleday are deeply shocked and saddened to learn of E. Lynn Harris’ death at too young an age. His pioneering novels and powerful memoir about the black gay experience touched and inspired millions of lives, and he was a gifted storyteller whose books brought delight and encouragement to readers everywhere. Lynn was a warm and generous person, beloved by friends, fans, and booksellers alike, and we mourn his passing.”

A cause of death was not immediately known. Further inquiries were directed to the Los Angeles coroner’s office.

In January of this year, Harris began the book tour for his 12th best-seller “Basketball Jones” here in Atlanta with a signing at one of his favorite shops, Outwrite Books in Midtown.

On Friday afternoon, Outwrite Books owner Philip Rafshoon reflected on a literary career that began here in Atlanta after Harris spent $25,000 of his own money to self-publish his debut novel “Invisible Life” in 1992. He sold it out of his car trunk and at beauty shops.

The book quickly became an underground hit by shedding a spotlight on life “on the down low” — African-American men who self-identified as heterosexual but secretly slept with other men.

“He came in with the books and I remember saying to him, ‘We’ll take every copy you’ve got.’ ” recalled Rafshoon. “Everyone here is in shock today. People can’t believe it’s true. For many black gay people, E. Lynn Harris’ books were the first books they ever read about themselves.”

Harris’ friend and Atlanta author Pearl Cleage recalled meeting Harris in the early 1990s when they both showed up to a seminar at the Georgia World Congress Center as self-published writers lugging their bags of books with them.

“Along with Terry McMillan’s ‘Waiting to Exhale,’ E. Lynn Harris’ ‘Invisible Life’ helped to create a bigger space for us,” Cleage reflected. “Those two books helped to not only define but also to broaden what African-Americans wanted to read. They also informed New York publishers that these voices were out there. He made an important impact on American letters.”

Author and former AJC arts editor Valerie Boyd was the first writer to review “Invisible Life” in 1992.

“I remember reading this self-published book with typos and the binding coming apart,” said Boyd. “But E. Lynn was really the first to show us that life. He could push an uncomfortable conversation forward until we became comfortable talking about it. That was his genius.”

Boyd once rescued the author at a dinner party when a heterosexual African-American female reader cornered him, angry at him for exposing the secret life of “down low” men.

“African-American women became his most devoted readers because he made them aware of a world that could prove dangerous to them,” explained Boyd. “He became our big brother.”

Despite inking a series of lucrative publishing deals and becoming a frequent fixture on the New York Times best-seller list, Harris’ approach with readers never changed over the years.

“He would get up and hug each person in line,” recalled Boyd. “He personalized each book and he took the time to make that connection with each reader.”

Harris’ 13th book, “Mama Dearest” was tentatively set to be released on Oct. 13, 2009.

Earlier this year in an interview with the AJC, the writer discussed his ongoing creative growth.

“Surprisingly, it has been through teaching that I think my writing has improved,” Harris said. “I teach creative writing at the University of Arkansas, and last semester I had a great class of students, and I feel like I learned more than they did. Getting up in front of people every day, talking about writing and talking about the process, has made me a better writer.”

Said Cleage: “He was a great friend. Someone you could have a margarita with and he would give you great advice if you were having problems with your publisher or your book tour. When you were talking with him, he never had another place to get to. He was committed to telling the truth and loving his family, his friends and his lovers. I miss him already.”


123 comments Add your comment

Fan

July 24th, 2009
1:23 pm

WOW. That is just so hard for me to believe. I really enjoyed his writing. Condolences to those he leaves behind.

Marge Owens

July 24th, 2009
1:27 pm

WOW can not believe this!!

Deanna

July 24th, 2009
1:28 pm

Awful….great author. Reread his novels over and over again. My prayers are with his family and friends.

Alice

July 24th, 2009
1:29 pm

I fell in love with his books from the first one I read. I actually cried. May he rest in peace. My condolences to his family, friends and loved ones.

Ms Ice

July 24th, 2009
1:29 pm

He was a great author….

monica

July 24th, 2009
1:31 pm

WOw..im still in shock! I luv his books and was waiting for basketball jones to come out..one of my favorite black authors..

Omahara Sams

July 24th, 2009
1:33 pm

OMG! I’m so taking back. My condolences to his family.

Lala

July 24th, 2009
1:34 pm

May you rest in peace and I pray that your soul in anchored in the Lord.

Just as I am is the 1st book I read as and adult that was for pleasure. I have read all of your books and they are truley enjoyable.

Mr. Harris you will be greatly missed.

Peace & blessings

Betty Henderson

July 24th, 2009
1:34 pm

Im terribly saddened by the passing of my favorite author. I have been a faithful fan since his first book. I have been at every book signing when he comes to Michigan. He will be truly missed but forever in my heart he will always stay.

Fan From STL

July 24th, 2009
1:35 pm

This is so heartbreaking… I’ve been a true reader of his work from the start. He will be missed greatly by all.

Fatima

July 24th, 2009
1:35 pm

He was truly a gifted man….I may not have agreed with the topics he wrote about, homosexuality, but I’ve read almost all of his books and he was truly talented. May he rest in peace, love, and my condolences to his family.

Jena Hicklen

July 24th, 2009
1:36 pm

Wow! This is shocking! Not what I expected to see on the news today. Rest in Peace Mr. Harris. Your words will be truly missed.

Dina

July 24th, 2009
1:36 pm

God rest his soul! He was an outstanding author!

Dina

July 24th, 2009
1:36 pm

God rest his soul! He was an outstanding author!

Cre'

July 24th, 2009
1:39 pm

Wow! Who would have thought, the world of authors has truly lost someone great!

Debra C.

July 24th, 2009
1:40 pm

I am so hurt…I dont believe it …may GOD bless his family in this time of sorrow…i am so hurt..

Patrice

July 24th, 2009
1:41 pm

I can’t believe this! He and his work will be truly missed! This is truly a heartbreak…truly! May he rest in peace. :-(

ceecee

July 24th, 2009
1:42 pm

im just finishing up his “i say a little pray”, which is a page turner! rest in peace mr. harris,we will always love you!

[...] “A story posted online at ArkansasSports360.com on Friday reported that Atlanta author E. Lynn Harris has died at age 54 during a west coast book tour. A blog update posted at the Arkansas Times newspaper reported on its website that Harris suffered ‘a serious health set back’ Friday morning and then updated it with news of the writer’s death.” Link [...]

Marion

July 24th, 2009
1:45 pm

Wow, This is so hard to believe I’m at work now and it’s really hard not to cry Lynn was/is my favorite author I have all this books.

God Bless his family and Friends.

God speed,

Whole9

July 24th, 2009
1:46 pm

Mr. Harris was a very talented author and publisher whose first novel (”Invisble Life) succeeded against all demographic odds (who would buy a novel by a black gay author about the black gay lifestyle). One can not underestimate the influence and impact he has had on helping the black community come to terms with it’s gay and lesbian members. Thank you Mr. Harris you for your contributions!

Crystal

July 24th, 2009
1:47 pm

I just got the news and I can’t believe it – I love his work. I’m actually reading one of the books now. My condolences to his family and friends. He will truly be missed.

Len Thomas

July 24th, 2009
1:48 pm

I am so shocked! I have every last one of his books, so gifted was E. Lynn Harris. He will be missed by many. God rest his soul.

TRM

July 24th, 2009
1:48 pm

Lord, we are dying too young! I pray for his family. May God be with them during this tragic loss. Wow, too much to put into words…

[...] >> Online blogs report Atlanta author E. Lynn Harris has died [...]

Tonya Cole

July 24th, 2009
1:53 pm

I am truly sadden by this news. i’ve truly enjoyed his books n my prayers are extended to his family and friends

Maurice

July 24th, 2009
1:54 pm

WOW, He’s one of my friends on Facebook and was just expressing how he was so excited to be back in California. That was just yesterday. Life is too short everyone. We have to cherish the people we love because tomorrow is not promised to anyone! WOW

Fan

July 24th, 2009
1:54 pm

OMG!! I have been a fan of his writing for years now. I will keep his family in my prayers

Mary Shankle

July 24th, 2009
1:56 pm

Wow! He was such a good author! I will miss him. There goes Basil!!

Neebee

July 24th, 2009
1:58 pm

I’m saddened by this also. I started reading E. Lynn Harris books around 10th or 11th grade. May he RIP

Robin

July 24th, 2009
1:59 pm

Sad toHear,This was a Personla friend, we just spoke on Facebook yesterday, and he was ecstatic. My Prayers are with his Family. You will be MISSED.

Alicia

July 24th, 2009
1:59 pm

Wow, is all that seems to come to mind. He was one of my fav writers & will be missed.

Erica

July 24th, 2009
2:01 pm

I am sooo saden right now. E lynn harris was the only reason i ever read. He has helped me thru some hard trials in my life. It was in his books that i found some kind of peace. My heart goes out to everyone who’s lives Mr. Harris has touched. To his family and dear friends…
This too shall pass! RIP Mr. Harris and Thank you!

Atlanta Black Gay Male

July 24th, 2009
2:02 pm

His books were so very important to me. They had a positive impact on my life as I finally was able to read interesting and (mostly) affirming stories about being African-American and gay.

In a word full of people who “don’t agree with homosexuals”, it is important to have our stories told in a positive light.

May he rest in peace.

Sunny

July 24th, 2009
2:03 pm

Not a fan of his books at all, but I hope that his friends and family find comfort in what will be a truly difficult time in their life. God Bless

Stephanie O'Guinn

July 24th, 2009
2:04 pm

Wow, I remember going to the book signing of his first book like it was yesterday (Invisible Life). He was such a gifted writer. I met him numerous times at book signings. He was always the same. I remember one signing where he brought one of the guys from the cover on his books. It was awesome. He will be missed. I always looked forward to his next book.

Peggy

July 24th, 2009
2:06 pm

Mr. Harris wrote passionately about unconditional love. It was through his books that I understood that just because someone loves differently than me, they deserve the same respect. With the exception of the last book, I have all the others autographed by Mr. Harris. It was a pleasure to meet you first in Savannah and in Atl. Your compassioniate writing skills will be missed.

Jeanette

July 24th, 2009
2:06 pm

This is another sad day! I truly enjoyed reading E. Lynn’s books. What a great lost to the literary workd..

Ronise

July 24th, 2009
2:06 pm

Rest In Peace. Although, I never read his books I have heard of him. I have seen his face and name for many years.

Arnetha

July 24th, 2009
2:07 pm

My heart goes out to his family and fans, he was truly a great writer and will be missed.

Razorback Fan

July 24th, 2009
2:08 pm

One of his LBs is taking it very hard. No one knows if he had the “champ” that bug that don’t lose a fight aka magic aka die slow. However, he didn’t hide from being “gender specific”. He is a legend up here on the hill (University of Arkansas), from chartering the Alphas to be the first black cheerleader and famed auther/professor. like sammie said, that’s life fam. My wife is bugging now making me get all of the books he signed from when she was in his classes at the U of A.

LaToya Turner

July 24th, 2009
2:09 pm

I am deeply saddend by this passing, I truely love him, and his writtings, I have read every one of his books, and will miss him so much, this is a huge loss in black america, if you read you understand where I’m coming from, much love to e. Lynn Harris and his family with who he makes it no secret how much he loves,my deepest sympahty and condolences to all fans and family alike… He will be missed

ms. d

July 24th, 2009
2:09 pm

wow. i can’t believe it. another great author gone to soon.

Marie

July 24th, 2009
2:10 pm

Incomprehensible!!!

Anthony

July 24th, 2009
2:11 pm

I am really shocked and saddened to hear of Mr. Harris’ death. He was a brillant writter. Hopefully this is a hoax.

Kelly

July 24th, 2009
2:14 pm

Love all your books detailed writer you will be missed.Prayers to your family.

itamazesme

July 24th, 2009
2:15 pm

very talented author, and he had an awesome gift of story telling…he will be missed

Mountain

July 24th, 2009
2:17 pm

When I got the text that E Lynn Harris Passed my heart sank I ran to my computer to find out if it was true I wanted it not to be I just knew he would write again. I have all your books you will be missed. Prayers to the family.

keeyna

July 24th, 2009
2:18 pm

I will keep his family in my prayers. He was one of my favorite authors may u rest in peace.

GBM in MD

July 24th, 2009
2:18 pm

I find it interesting that most of the comments are from women. While I am a great supporter of Black authors, I stopped reading E. Lynn’s books after “Invisible Life”. As a GBM, I was so excited to have an author come along with writing with us in mind. When the self-published book came out there was no one writing for us about us. However, with the popularity of “Invisible Life” to the Black female audience and the monetary success, major publishing houses took an interest in E. Lynn’s work and he obviously starting writing to and for them. I understand that Black females read more (buy more books) than Black males – gay or otherwise. So, I couldn’t be mad a E. Lynn. I was just terribly disappointed. Still, I am sad to hear that he is no longer with us. My prayers go out to his family, friends, staff and readers.

Who is going to fill that void?