Friday, July 24, 2009

Everette Lynn Harris, 1955-2009

Everette Lynn Harris, the groundbreaking, New York Times bestselling author, has died at age 54. Harris was a black, gay writer whose novels transformed the landscape of modern American literature, beginning with his Invisible Life trilogy, which established him as the voice of the black gay genre, in a time when American publishers wouldn't touch such books. He went on to write eight more books after that, most recently Basketball Jones, which he was on tour promoting when he passed away. Mr. Harris is widely considered to be a "gateway author" of the gay literary genre, opening the publishing world to many modern gay-lit writers, including me.

I first became aware of Lynn and his work when I began my own serious attempts at getting published. I got in touch with him for advice on navigating the publishing minefield, and he was always, always ready with words of encouragement and support. It is largely because of him, that I stuck with it and wrote the books people know me for today. Lynn's struggles with his own sexuality are a recurring theme in his books, and certainly his characters have given life to the parallel struggles gay men everywhere face in our often homophobic society.

Lynn was staying at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills when he was stricken last night, according to published reports. He had suffered a fainting spell aboard an Amtrak train yesterday afternoon, but appeared to be fine, witnesses said. Despite his complaints about his worsening health, and the stresses of a whirlwind book tour that would have taken him to 10 cities in a little over a month. In a statement this morning, Lynn's publisher Doubleday Random House, Executive Director Alison Rich 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.”

Funeral arrangements for E. Lynn Harris have not yet been announced. I cannot adequately express my shock and sadness at the passing of this literary icon, who was a friend, fellow author, and proud, gay, black man. We will miss you, even as you live on through your words.

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