E. Lynn Harris In His Own Words

Novelist E. Lynn Harris died this weekend at the age of 54. Harris was gay and African-American. Most of his fiction featured gay black characters leading heterosexual lives. We hear excerpts from interviews he gave to NPR over the years.

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: Write what you know. And what author E. Lynn Harris knew was life as a gay black man in America.

LYNN HARRIS: Fifteen years ago when I wrote "Invisible Life," everybody thought I had created something new, when in fact, you know, it's probably been going on since the beginning of time.

: That's Harris on NPR's TELL ME MORE with Michel Martin in March. And it turned out to be his final interview on our network. He died last Thursday. On TELL ME MORE he talked about his first novel "Invisible Life," written in 1994. The book introduced readers to the world of men on the down-low. That is, pretending to be heterosexual while carrying on secret homosexual relationships. The book made him an overnight success. Harris found fans in young black professionals, many of them women.

He tackled the issues of HIV and AIDS. And he didn't hesitate to put homosexuality in places where it's most taboo, like churches and locker rooms. His last published work, "Basketball Jones," focused on the kept and secret boyfriend of a pro-athlete. That storyline was inspired by an usual request.

HARRIS: About three years ago, I got a call from a representative of, he said a current NBA star who was thinking about coming out and wanted to talk to me before doing this and when I'd be available. And I said sure. And so I carried my phone around for about three weeks, you know, waiting for this call. And the call never came. And I just started to think how the conversation could've gone, what advice I could've offered this young man and just what was going on in his world.

: By then, Harris had written 10 New York Times bestsellers. But he still couldn't figure out why the basketball player would come to him for advice.

HARRIS: I don't know why me. You know, maybe because I'm one of the most visible out black gay man. But, you know, I don't know a lot about what his situation would've been like. His situation would've been totally different from mine.

: And yet, as his mainstream success grew, Harris seemed to lose support from the black gay community.

HARRIS: I found out from reading the blogs that a lot of gay men had - black gay men had abandoned me three or four books ago because they thought I was writing for women. And not necessarily showing them in the best light in the sense that most of my characters are good-looking and wealthy and what have you, and a lot of their lives are not like that. The mere fact that I'm so mainstream has seemed to hurt my popularity with the people that I started to write these books for.

: But Harris never stopped writing. He had two more books in the works with no plans of slowing down.

HARRIS: I got so many ideas, I feel so fortunate and so blessed to be able to do this and then still do it with such excitement. This is really, really exciting to wake up in the morning, you know, and at evening and all times during the day and want to go back to my characters.

: Author E. Lynn Harris in his last interview with NPR. He died on Thursday at the age of 54.

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