In the autograph line at a black librarian’s conference, I once asked E. Lynn Harris, “Who do you see as your audience?” Perhaps there was more than a touch of snark in my tone at the time. Although for many of us the first time we had encountered stories about black gay men was in the pages of one of his novels, as Lynn’s success grew some of his out readers began to chafe at his closeted characters. Sure, Basil Henderson and company had helped him ‘cross over’ to wide appeal with straight women, but we wanted him to write for US.
Lynn loved his fans, and supported other writers–sometimes gay, sometimes not–always giving audiences a list of books to read while they were waiting for his next novel. But ask him to define his audience? He wasn’t having it.
“Anyone who reads,” he replied demurely, and kept on signing. Like most authors, he was writing for himself, but he was also broadening the awareness of those not like us. He had no desire to be a gay icon, although he was that: he wanted to reach as many people as possible.
And if we wanted to see ourselves in print, Lynn was proof that you could succeed if you did what he had done: sit down and write your own books.
This July LambdaLiterary.org will be honoring the memory of author E. Lynn Harris, who passed away last year. As a part of our tribute, we asked his friends and peers to tell us about the important legacy of his work and his incredible impact on the community.