Skip to main content
Select Source:

Harris, E. Lynn 1957–

E. Lynn Harris 1957

Author

At a Glance

Selected writings

Sources

E. Lynn Harris had a secret he kept from his coworkers for a long time. The first person he spoke to about his secret was well-known author Maya Angelou. In 1983 she was speaking at a corporate conference in the company where Harris worked. It was there that he confessed his secret to her. He wanted to become a writer. She told me I should write something every day, he said in People magazine, even if it was just one word. This dedication to his dream has made Harris an extremely popular author today.

E. Lynn Harris was born in Flint, Michigan in the late 1950s. His mother was a single parent who raised him and his three sisters on her salary from factory jobs. My mother was a single parent who always worked two jobs, Harris told the Chicago Tribune. We have never been a sit-down-at-the-table-and-discuss-our lives-type. But there has always been a lot of love there. Harris recalled watching white families on television and wondering why his family did not act the way they did. I realize now that we, black families, respond to things differently, he added in the Tribune.

When Harris was four years old his mother moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, where Harris spent the remaining time of his growing up years. His mother had a small four room house. The Houston Chronicle said that as a teenager Harris used to lie about his modest, single-parent background and pretend to be the scion of a well-off family. I started working odd jobs at age 12 to help support the family, said Harris in The Atlanta Constitution. Even though life wasnt easy he managed to do right. My mother is my greatest inspiration because she worked so hard to bring us up right. She leads by example. According to The New York Times, Harris was 14 when he first met his father, who was killed a year later.

Harris attended high school several miles away from his home and commuted the distance daily. The school was a predominately white school. Harris said he attended the school because students received a better education there than the schools closer to his home. When he graduated, Harris went on to attend the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. It was there that he decided he was going to become a writer. He majored in journalism and received his degree in 1977. While at Arkansas Harris was the first black male cheerleader, the first black yearbook editor, and president of his fraternity. He told The Houston Chronicle that he was in that workaholic mode, being the most popular, but not having any friends.

To this day Harris remains an Arkansas Razorback fan. He seems more devoted than their other big fan Bill Clinton. I get upset and depressed for a day when Arkansas loses. I dont even read the sports pages. Its just my passion, he told USA Today. He went on to tell the story of how he rushed through a book signing and interviews one night a couple of years ago during the NCAA basketball tournament, it was the one time that I prayed no one would show up, he said.

I was miserable because I was living a lie, he told The New York Times. Mr. Harris said he fretted over his looks and lied about his sexuality for years, the paper

At a Glance

Born 1957 in Flint, Michigan, son of Etta Harris an assembly worker and single parent. Single, no children. Education: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, B.A. in Journalism, 1977; further classes in business at Southern Methodist University.

Careen Corporate Sales Staff, IBM, ATT, and Hewlett-Packard, 197790; Author, 1990; books: Invisible Life, self published, 1992; Anchor Books, 1994; Just As I Am, Doubleday, 1994; And This Too Shall Pass, Doubleday, 1996; if This World Were Mine, Doubleday, 1997;i Abide With Me, Doubleday, 1999; Not A Day Goes By, 2000; Any Way The Wind Blows, 2001.

Membership: E. Lynn Harris Better Days Foundation, founder,

Addresses: Doubleday Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, New York 10036.

continued. He drank too much. He was lonely. Mr. Harris relates one story where he called his mother crying because he had broken off a relationship with a lover. He said in The Commercial Appeal, that his mother told him Youre my baby and I love you no matter what. And I said, I know mom, but sometimes you need somebody more than your mother to love you. She didnt know at the time that Harris was gay. When asked about his sexuality Mr. Harris has given different answers. To some reporters he has said he is gay and has known this for many years. At other times he has said that he relates to one of the characters from his first two novels, Raymond Tyler, Jr., I see myself as a gay man, but when I see an attractive woman, he said in The Dallas Morning News, or think about settling down and making a home for myself, I still feel that ambivalence. I think its an issue that troubles a lot of men.

After college Harris was hired immediately by IBM. He spent approximately the next thirteen years selling mainframe computers for IBM as well as AT&T and Hewlett-Packard. He lived in Dallas, Houston, and New York City before moving to Atlanta. Harris has said he was earning $90,000 a year at his sales job before he left. The Houston Chronicle called him, successful but not happy. The article also added, he turned to writing as a form of therapy to help alleviate feelings of depression. Part of the depression was that being black and gay had caused me so much pain, he said in The Houston Chronicle, If someone understood the pain that living this life could cause, maybe they would see that nobody would go out willy-nilly and choose it, and they would show more empathy. As with many gay men it took some time before Mr. Harris could feel comfortable with his sexuality.

After leaving his high powered sales job, Harris began writing. When he completed his first book he sent it to several publishers. Not a single publisher would agree to publish the manuscript. Some even went so far to say that black people didnt want to read about the things he was writing. Even a national publisher of gay books rejected the manuscript. After some soul searching and getting over the pain of all the rejection letters, Harris decided he would publish his own book. According to Publishers Weekly he contacted AIDS agencies and they were able to provide the money he needed in exchange for a portion of the proceeds in return for helping him promote the book. He was also able to find a printer that would work with him to arrange payment for their work. I got the book printed right before the Christmas of 1991, and thats when the horror started, he said to the magazine. I had over 5, 000 copies in rented office space. At the first book party we sold only 42, and I felt sick.

He began carrying around boxes of the book in the trunk of his car. He left copies at beauty salons, womens groups, black-owned bookstores and even went door-to-door in an effort to sell the book. Bookstores began calling him when customers began requesting the book they had seen in beauty salons. It wasnt long before Essence magazine named his book one of their ten best of the year. He worked hard enough that eventually he had sold 10,000 copies of the book that he published. For many first books, published by major publishers, this is considered to be a successful book. All Harris work finally netted him a contract with a publisher. Doubleday signed him to a writing deal, after reading an article about him in The Atlanta Constitution. They re-issued the first book Invisible Life in paperback, and published in hardcover his second book Just As I Am.

Harris became well-known. He is greeted by hundreds of fans when he arrives for book signings at stores around the country. His third book spent several weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. Slowly Im seeing more men, slowly Im seeing more whites, Harris said recently in The Houston Chronicle. But the majority are Black women. They are very fervent in their support. Being a former salesman, he knows that his fan base has grown because the amount of time his latest book has spent on the bestseller lists. On why his books are popular Harris told the Chicago Tribune, The characters and situations are so real that people learn something about themselves and about other people. He also felt that the books touch everyone in the black community, both gay and straight. Most of the black community believe that certain people like upstanding or popular black people cant be (gay or bisexual), he told the Chicago paper. The Tribune also added that the popularity of his novels have forced the African American community to examine this once hidden side of the black culture.

Harris began working on his memoirs, tentatively titled, For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When Being Gay Was Too Tough, a word play on the title of Ntozake Shanges play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf. He was also working on the sale of the screen rights of his books, so that they can be made into movies, as well as two other novels. In 2002 Harris received the Writers for Writers Award from Barnes & Noble for his E. Lynn Harris Better Days Literary Foundation, an organization that helps mentor up-and-coming writers.

By 1994 Harris could claim that he was the first African American male to be at the top of Blackboard, the African-American best-seller list. By 2000 his first six novels had sold over one million copies and he was the first African American male to equal the achievements of his female counterparts. Harris characters often show up from book to book, which helped to keep his readers hooked. Or, perhaps his readers are hooked because his plots, according to Clarissa Cruz, writer for Entertainment Weekly, could be described as Soul Food meets Melrose Place. Harriss latest character, Yancey Harrington Braxton, a broad way diva, is jilted at the altar in Not a Day Goes By, and records an autobiographical song in Harriss subsequent novel, Any Way the Wind Blows. Having first hand knowledge of marketing, Harris asked Booby Daye to write music and lyrics for Yanceys Song and asked Yvette Carson, a back-up singer for Whitney Houston, to record the song. Harris publisher, Doubleday, produced 15, 000 promotional CD singles that feature the same cover art and title, Any Way the Wind Blows.

At book signings, Harris is surprised when people tell him how much they love him, give him hugs, and bring him food. He liked the fact that people tell him how much his stories have touched their lives. In an interview with Ebony magazine, Harris was asked where he finds his inspiration. Harris replied, My faith in God and in myself, from people I consider role modelsmy mother and my aunt, someone like John H. Johnson and Linda Johnson Rice. Hes from Arkansas, and I always look to him as a hero. If a man from Arkansas could create Ebony, I could become a success, too.

Selected writings

Invisible Life, 1992.

Just As I Am, 1994.

And This Too Shall Pass, 1996.

If This World Were Mine, 1997.

Abide With Me, 1998.

Not A Day Goes By, 2000.

Any Way The Wind Blows, 2001.

Sources

Periodicals

The Advocate, June 24, 1997, p. 110; August 29, 2000, p. 67.

The Atlanta Constitution, June 9, 1992, p. Dl.

Chicago Tribune, December 5, 1994, p. C1.

The Commercial Appeal (Memphis), April 4, 1996, p. 1C.

The Dallas Morning News, April 3, 1996, p. 1C.

Ebony, October 2000, p. 23.

Entertainment Weekly, September 2000, p. 38.

Essence, April 1996, p. 88.

The Houston Chronicle, April 14, 1996, p. 20.

The New York Times, March 17, 1996, p. A43.

People, April 15, 1995, p. 115.

Publishers Weekly, December 6, 1993, pp. 29, 32; April, 19, 2000, p. 44;June 26, 2000, p. 50; June 25, 2001, p. 49; July 30, 2001, p. 53.

USA Today, August 17, 1994, p. 7D.

On-line

Publishers Weekly, http://publishersweekly.reviewsnews.com, February 25, 2002.

Stephen Stratton and Christine Miner Minderovic

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Harris, E. Lynn 1957–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Harris, E. Lynn 1957–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/harris-e-lynn-1957-0

"Harris, E. Lynn 1957–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/harris-e-lynn-1957-0

Harris, E. Lynn 1957—

E. Lynn Harris 1957

Author

Popular, But No Friends

Harris Discovers His Sexuality

Finally, Success Arrived

Sources

E. Lynn Harris had a secret he kept from his co-workers for a long time. The first person he spoke to about his secret was well-known author Maya Angelou. In 1983 she was speaking at a corporate conference in the company where Harris worked. It was there he confessed his secret to her. He wanted to become a writer. She told me I should write something every day, he said in People magazine, even if it was just one word. This dedication to his dream has made Harris an extremely popular author today.

Popular, But No Friends

E. Lynn Harris was born in Flint, Michigan in the late 1950s. His mother was a single parent who raised him and his three sisters on her salary from factory jobs. My mother was a single parent who always worked two jobs, Harris told the Chicago Tribune. We havenever been a sit-down-at-the-table-and-discuss-our lives-type. But there has always been a lot of love there. Harris recalls watching white families on television and wondering why his family did not act the way they did. I realize now that we, black families, respond to things differently, he added in the Tribune.

When Harris was four years old his mother moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, where Harris spent the remaining time of his growing up years. His mother had a small four room house. The Houston Chronicle said that as a teenager Harris used to lie about his modest, single-parent background and pretend to be the scion of a well-off family. I started working odd jobs at age 12 to help support the family, said Harris in The Atlanta Constitution. Even though life wasnt easy he managed to do right. My mother is my greatest inspiration because she worked so hard to bring us up right. She leads by example. According to The New York Times, Harris was 14 when he first met his father, who was killed a year later.

Harris attended high school several miles away from his home and commuted the distance daily. The school was a predominately white school. Harris says he attended the school because students received a better education at that school than the schools closer to his home. When he graduated, E. Lynn Harris went on to attend the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. It was there that he decided he was going to become a writer. He majored

At a Glance

Born 1957 in Flint, Michigan, son of Etta Harris an assembly worker and single parent. 3 younger sisters. Single, no children. Education: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, B.A. in Journalism, 1977; further classes in business at Southern Methodist University.

Corporate Sales Staff, IBM, AT & T, and Hewlett-Packard, 1977-90; Author, 1990-present. Author: Invisible Life, self published, 1992; Anchor Books, 1994. Just As I Am, Doubleday, 1994; And This Too Shall Pass, Doubleday, 1996.

Addresses: Agent Doubleday Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, New York 10036.

in journalism and received his degree in 1977. While at Arkansas Harris was the first black male cheerleader, the first black yearbook editor, and president of his fraternity. He told The Houston Chronicle that he was in that workaholic mode, being the most popular, but not having any friends.

To this day Harris remains an Arkansas Razorbackfan. He seems more devoted than their other big fan Bill Clinton. I get upset and depressed for a day when Arkansas loses. I dont even read the sports pages. Its just my passion, he told USA Today. He went on to tell the story of how he rushed through a book signing and interviews one night a couple of years ago during the NCAA basketball tournament, it was the one time that I prayed no one would show up, he said.

Harris Discovers His Sexuality

I was miserable because I was living a lie, he told The New York Times. Mr. Harris said he fretted over his looks and lied about his sexuality for years, the paper continued. He drank too much. He was lonely. Mr. Harris relates one story where he called his mother crying because he had broken off a relationship with a lover. He said in The Commercial Appeal (Memphis), that his mother told him Youre my baby and I love you no matter what And I said, I know mom, but sometimes you need somebody more than your mother to love you. She didnt know at the time that Harris was gay. When asked about his sexuality Mr. Harris has given different answers. To some reporters he has said he is gay and has known this for many years. At other times he has said that he relates to one of the characters from his first two novels, Raymond Tyler, Jr., I see myself as a gay man, but when I see an attractive woman, he said in The Dallas Morning News, or think about settling down and making a home for myself, I still feel that ambivalence. I think its an issue that troubles a lot of men.

After college Harris was hired immediately by IBM. He spent approximately the next thirteen years selling mainframe computers for IBM as well as AT&T and Hewlett-Packard. He lived in Dallas, Houston, and New York City before moving to Atlanta. Harris has said he was earning $90,000 a year at his sales job before he left. The Houston Chronicle called him, successful but not happy. They also added ... he turned to writing as a form of therapy to help alleviate feelings of depression. Part of the depression was that being black and gay had caused me so much pain, he said in The Houston Chronicle, If someone understood the pain that living this life could cause, maybe they would see that nobody would go out willy-nilly and choose it, and they would show more empathy. As with many gay men it took some time before Mr. Harris could feel comfortable with his sexuality.

After leaving his high powered sales job, Harris began writing. When he completed his first book he sent it to several publishers. Not a single publisher would agree to publish the manuscript. Some even went so far to say that black people didnt want to read about the things he was writing. Even a national publisher of gay books rejected the manuscript. After some soul searching and getting over the pain of all the rejection letters, Harris decided he would publish his own book. According to Publishers Weekly he contacted AIDS agencies and they were able to provide the money he needed in exchange for a portion of the proceeds in return for helping him promote the book. He was also able to find a printer that would work with him to arrange payment for their work. I got the book printed right before the Christmas of 1991, and thats when the horror started, he said to the magazine. I had over 5,000 copies in rented office space. At the first book party we sold only 42, and I felt sick.

He began carrying around boxes of the book in the trunk of his car. He left copies at beauty salons, womens groups, black-owned bookstores and even went door-to-door in an effort to sell the book. Bookstores began calling him when customers began requesting the book they had seen in beauty salons. It wasnt long before Essence magazine named his book one of their ten best of the year. He worked hard enough that eventually he had sold 10,000 copies of the book that he published. For many first books, published by major publishers, this is considered to be a successful book. All Harris work finally netted him a contract with a publisher. Doubleday signed him to a writing deal, after reading an article about him in The Atlanta Constitution. They reissued the first book Invisible Life in paperback, and published in hard-cover his second book Just As I Am.

Finally, Success Arrived

Harris became well-known. He is greeted by hundreds of fans when he arrives for book signings at stores around the country. His third book spent several weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. Slowly Im seeing more men, slowly Im seeing more whites, Harris said recently in The Houston Chronicle. But the majority are Black women. They are very fervent in their support. Being a former salesman, he knows that his fan base has grown because the amount of time his latest book has spent on the bestseller lists. On why his books are popular Harris told the Chicago Tribune, The characters and situations are so real that people learn something about themselves and about other people. He also feels that the books touch everyone in the black community, both gay and straight. Most of the black community believe that certain people like upstanding or popular black people cant be (gay or bisexual), he told the Chicago paper. The Tribune also added that the popularity of his novels have forced the African American community to examine this once hidden side of the black culture.

Harris now splits his time between homes in New York City and Atlanta. He is working on his memoirs which are scheduled to be published next year. They are tentatively entitled, For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When Being Gay Was Too Tough, a word play on the title of Ntozake Shanges play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is En uf. He is also working on the sale of the screen rights of his books, so that they can be made into movies, as well as two other novels.

Harris is still single, though The New York Times says he prays for a partner. Someone who loves basketball and ballet. Someone whos willing to tell the truth. Someone whos willing to accept love. These thoughts are a long way from the young boy that dreamed of a middle class life. I know now its okay to have dreamsjust make sure theyre your own.

Sources

The Atlanta Constitution, June 9, 1992, p. D1.

Chicago Tribune, December 5, 1994, p. C1.

The Commercial Appeal (Memphis), April 4, 1996. p. 1C.

The Dallas Morning News, April 3, 1996, p. 1C.

Emerge, July/August 1996, p 77.

Essence, April 1996, p. 88.

The Houston Chronicle, April 14, 1996, p. 20.

The New York Times, March 17, 1996, p. A43.

People, April 15, 1995, p. 115.

Publishers Weekly, December 6, 1993, pp. 29, 32.

USA Today, August 17, 1994, p. 7D.

Stephen Stratton

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Harris, E. Lynn 1957—." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Harris, E. Lynn 1957—." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/harris-e-lynn-1957

"Harris, E. Lynn 1957—." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/harris-e-lynn-1957