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Remembering E. Lynn Harris

Updated on July 26, 2010

Why We Love E. Lynn Harris

E. Lynn Harris passed on to his glory on July 23, 2009. This blog was originally posted back in 2009, one week after E. Lynn passed. I thought it only appropriate to reflect on the life and books of this talented brother who has forever changed the face of dating.

Men, women, white, black, old, young, heterosexual, homosexual – we all love E. Lynn Harris’ books. We love his characters, stories, conflicts, romance, seduction and we love E. Lynn Harris. I’ve often wondered howthis man who happens to be Black and who happens to be gay captured the collective imaginations of so many protean readers. We know E. Lynn had a large fan base. Ten of twelve novels were on the New York Times Bestseller list. (It wasn’t just gay men reading his books) After all, aren’t gay men still an anathema in the Black community? Don’t we still preach “Adam and Eve” and not “Adam and Steve” in church on Sunday? Don’t we still tip politely around conversations regarding unmarried Uncle June Bug and his special friend? How open are we about homosexuals and homosexuality? Are our children comfortable discussing their sexuality with us? Are we comfortable with our own sexuality?
I first discovered E. Lynn Harris during a conversation with my cousins after a big, traditional Thanksgiving dinner at my mom’s house in 1997. We were all sitting around clowning and reminiscing about the good ol’ days and my cousin Katrina asked me “Have you read any E. Lynn Harris novels?” I hadn’t at that time but on Black Friday, I found myself at the local bookstore in our mall and I picked up a copy of Invisible Life. A voracious reader, I devoured the book over the long weekend before returning to work on Monday. I was immediately hooked and couldn’t wait to read more. I picked up Just As I Am. I had fallen in love with Raymond Tyler, Jr. Who wouldn’t be in love with Ray. He was handsome, well-educated, erudite, lived in New York city, came from a great family whom he loved, had interesting friends and oh, by the way – he was gay.
Harris’s characters were so well-written. They had depth and breadth and we wanted to know them. We wanted to hang out with them. Go have drinks with them. When Ray fell in love, we fell in love right along with him. We became excited when Ray met someone new. We were disappointed when the relationship inevitably fell apart. What person, straight or gay, can’t relate to the sweaty palms and giddy excitement of a new love or the heartbreak of a relationship gone wrong? We cried right along with Ray when Kyle died. We wanted to strangle Trent for cheating on Ray. We hated that Quinn lied to Ray about being married.
We loved to hate Harris’ villains as much as we loved the good guys. Harris recently introduced us to the wicked Maurice in “Basketball Jones.” We also hated the scheming, conniving Ava Middlebrooks. And then there was John Basil Henderson. Good guy or bad guy? You decide.
Harris’s novels and characters took us to some exciting places and we were happy to go along for the ride. We enjoyed the sounds and bright lights of New York, tasted B. Smith’s and Sylvia’s cuisine, were tantalized by Broadway, endured the biting bitter cold of the Chicago wind coming off the lake, felt the sweltering heat of a Washington, DC summer and shouted “Hallelujah!” at a mega-church in Atlanta. Lynn’s descriptions of the locales made them come alive for us.
Although, Harris would insist that Raymond Tyler’s life was not his own life, most writers do tend to give their characters aspects of their own personalities. We loved Raymond and all of his confusion, therefore we loved Harris.
Harris added another whole dimension to the dating scene for Black women. He introduced us to the brother on the down-low. Not only did we now have to ask our men, “Have you been tested?” and expect that they would tell us the truth we were now forced to ask them “Have you had sex with another man, ever?” and expect them to tell us the truth.
Most of us have always felt that we could reasonably be sure if a man was gay. Alright, I apologize for the stereotypes, but we thought gay men were flamboyant. Perhaps they had a falsetto speaking voice, delicate hand gestures, refined and artistic tastes. I had the temerity to believe that I had a finely tuned gaydar. I had nothing to worry about. I knew a gay man from a straight man. Hell, like Strangé from the movie Boomerang, I thought I could pick a gay man out of a crowd. “That man, he is gay.” But Harris threw a monkey wrench into those beliefs. Harris opened our eyes to the handsome, masculine, sports-loving, charming, (maybe even a bit thuggish) gay man. This brother liked having sex with other men, but insisted that he was straight. How were we to ever know the difference? Just one more thing for Black, heterosexual women to look out for. Wasn’t it enough that we were having a difficult enough time trying to find an employed brother, who wasn’t in jail, or still attached to his mother’s apron strings, who was ambitious, good in bed, preferred dating sisters, had no substance abuse or alcohol abuse problems, wasn’t violent and had good credit. We are eternally grateful to Harris for helping us all fine tune our gaydars and realize that the down-low brother does exist.

E. Lynn Harris will be greatly missed. Rest In Peace, my brother. We know your beautiful star is smiling down on us.

Celebrate the life of E. Lynn Harris by picking up a copy of his latest novel, "Mama Dearest".


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