Another E. Lynn Harris Post
Because of my refusal to update this blog, I don’t know what’s coming out, who’s won what award, and who’s on the best-seller’s list. Shame. I guess I figured having a book group and writing short stories would be my contribution to black literature. Maybe I should consider this blog as a bonus. After all, it helps keep me in the know . . . and some of you too!
I learned on FaceBook a few days ago that E. Lynn Harris died. Interestingly enough, there were no mentions of what he died of. I’ve read a few different things. Did he die of a heart attack or a “serious health setback”? Some have suggested AIDS. Whatever the case (maybe it’s not our business), we have lost a prominent figure in African-American literature. Harris will be missed, but in the meantime, let’s take a moment to recognize his contribution to the canon. According to The New York Times:
Mr. Harris’s leap to fame was an unlikely success story. He was in his mid-30s, making his living as a computer salesman, when he began to write. His first book, “Invisible Life,” was self-published in 1991 — and he sold it himself, too, out of his car, on black college campuses, in barbershops in black neighborhoods — until it was discovered and published as a trade paperback in 1994.
After that Mr. Harris wrote 11 other books, including “Just as I Am,” “If This World Were Mine,” “A Love of My Own” and “Any Way the Wind Blows.” A memoir, “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” underscoring how far and how fast Mr. Harris’s star rose, begins with his suicide attempt in August 1990. According to his publisher, Doubleday, Mr. Harris had 10 consecutive books on the New York Times best-seller list, and more than four million copies of his books are in print.
“He wasn’t considered a literary writer,” his agent, John Hawkins, said in an interview on Friday, a fact of which Mr. Harris was very conscious. “He always said he’d like to learn someday to be a good writer, and the people around him all said, ‘Keep still.’ Because his writing touched people.”
In one way, Mr. Harris owed his success to a stranger. One day in the early 1990s, he walked into a bookstore in Atlanta to try to persuade the store manager to carry his self-published book and was given some advice from a saleswoman on the floor whose name he never learned. She told him that he needed a New York agent and that the agent he needed was a man named John Hawkins.
“She mentioned me,” said Mr. Hawkins, who took on “Invisible Life” and sold it to Anchor Books.
“I have no idea who she was or how she knew of me,” Mr. Hawkins said. “But he contacted me, and I read his book, and I said ‘Sure.’ ”
I never had a chance to get my books autographed. Happy reading, y’all.