Author E. Lynn Harris died at 54 Thursday


E. Lynn Harris, an author who helped familiarize the black community to a hidden “down-low” gay community, died Thursday of currently unrevealed causes. He was traveling on a tour for his latest book Basketball Jones.

Harris’s publicist Laura Gilmore noted that he had fallen ill Thursday night at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, and then passed away. She also cited an unnamed recent “serious health setback.”

Born Everette Lynn Harris, he self-published his first novel Invisible Life after working for 13 years at I.B.M. as a closeted gay man. After being turned down by various publishing houses, Harris hit the pavement with his book in 1991, selling it to salons and beauty palors all over Atlanta. His hard work paid off because Invisible Life found its way to DoubleDay where it was published in 1994. DoubleDay has since published all 11 of Harris’s books, including one memoir: What Becomes of the Broken Hearted.

Harris’s books were unique in that they weren’t just romance novels, or gay fiction, but dealt with a unique situation: a successful, professional gay black man living a heterosexual life and having secret affairs with men. While working at I.B.M. Harris experienced first hand the depression, loneliness, and pain this type of lifestyle can cause and his openness in addressing these issues helped many gay men and women and their families accept themselves and their situations. Thanks to Harris, many people found the courage to come out of the closet and the understanding to accept gay friends and family members.

“If you were African American and you were gay, you kept your mouth shut and you went on and did what everybody else did,” Harris said in an interview last year. “You had girlfriends, you lived a life that your parents had dreamed for you.”