Author E. Lynn Harris, whose books about African-American men on the down-low were wildly popular with black women, died unexpectedly in Los Angeles yesterday at age 54.
Harris wrote a series of novels that exposed readers to characters rarely depicted in literature: black, affluent gay men who were masculine, complex and, sometimes, tormented. Keith Boykin, an author and friend, said Harris encouraged the black community to talk openly about homosexuality. “We have a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy in the black community,” Boykin said. “E. Lynn Harris encouraged people to ask and to tell.” In books like “Invisible Life,” “A Love of My Own,” and his New York Times best-selling memoir, “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” Harris virtually invented a new genre: books that depicted black gay men living double lives. Though Harris wrote primarily about black gay men, some of his biggest fans were black women. His books became staples in black beauty salons, bookstores and book clubs. “It was hard to go on a subway in places in New York or D.C. and not see some black woman reading an E. Lynn Harris novel,” Boykin said.