Undoubtedly, E. Lynn Harris truly helped change the way we viewed gay men and especially African American gay men in our community. Whether deemed right or wrong, the discussion of homosexuality in the black community, specifically the "down-low" factor, was out the closet and open for debate thanks to E. Lynn's books. And Lawd, talk we did when they were first released! Everywhere I went women were discussing his characters' "tea".
(Sidebar) Okay, for you that only know "tea" as that refreshing, sweet or unsweetened libation, "tea" is also used in some gay circles to refer to someone personal business,ie...he didn't want anyone to know his tea. How I know it classified information! Moving on!
Do you remember your introduction to E. Lynn's first books, "Invisible Life" then "Just As I Am" in early 90's? I do. Harris'"Invisible Life" easily pulled me in with reflections of Langston Hughes' poetry, Black fraternity and sorority life, and campus football games. Pn fsct, the first few pages read like scenes from my own college experience and then eventually they didn't!
Ray, the handsome star athlete and fraternity brother that was in love with a sorority sister got turned out, "twisted", by another man! My reaction was this: "Oh hell naw!" But I cursed NOT out of disgust but pure shock! This was not the character I expected to be gay! And that shock kept me turning the pages for three days straight. I literally could not put the book down.
But though "Invisible Life" was a great read, truthfully it affected me negatively for much longer. I laugh about it now but then for a month or so every brotha to me was gay. Truly, E. Lynn's story had a sista overly paranoid. "I see gay people" was my mantra when it came to men that were to me too fine, too pretty, or had too much machismo!
It took me a while to shake the thought pattern, but E. Lynn opened our eyes as women to something we didn't want to see, but needed to see. He gave the country a whole new profile of a gay black man, and it surprisingly looked like our oh so manly husbands, lovers, brothers, entertainers, and athletes. His books woke us up and made us examine exactly what we as women were dealing with.
And to E. Lynn's credit he did it without being crass, overly sexual or sensational. E. Lynn was a true writer, a great story teller, with pivotal stories, and memorable characters. To this day, I can't hear the word "basil" and not think of the manipulative character of the same name in his later books. And truly after the first three novels, to me his work transcended the "gay love novel" genre and they just became great novels.
So E. Lynn Harris, THANK YOU for being man enough to be true to yourself. In the literary tradition of Hughes and Baldwin your stories too changed hearts and opened closed minds. You entertained us and enlightened us not only through your work but through your spirit. Rest in Peace.