Remembering E. Lynn Harris

Publishing veteran Charles Flowers remembers making history with author E. Lynn Harris when, before David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs, the openly gay black author scored his first New York Times best seller.

BY Charles Flowers

July 27 2009 12:00 AM ET

In between all the editing, we talked, not only about the characters and scenes that needed to be written, but our own lives: about our growing up, about our mothers and our sisters, Southern food and Whitney Houston, favorite musicals -- Dreamgirls (his) and Chicago (mine). I first heard many of the stories that he later shared in his memoir, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted. We had come from different kinds of families, but we were both born and raised Baptists, so we struggled with being gay, with what that meant in our families, would we ever find real love if we could shake free of the shame.

We were losing our publishing virginity, together: He had never had so much access to an editor and I had never worked so closely with an author -- it was a dream for both of us, making a book happen, each from our own abilities. Another dream came true nine months later, when the book became his first New York Times best seller, spending six weeks on the list. An openly gay black man with a New York Times best seller -- this was before David Sedaris, before Michael Cunningham's The Hours, or Augusten Burroughs.

This was history being made.

We spent the next decade working together. E-mails and phone calls replaced those editing sessions side-by-side on a couch, but we kept our humor, our sharing of stories, diva gossip, and boy talk. His fame grew and his sense of responsibility did too -- he was immensely grateful for his success, and he was a generous mentor to new authors and began speaking on college campuses. He was so thrilled when he was asked to teach at his alma mater, the University of Arkansas, where he could also be "faculty adviser" to his Razorbacks.

One of Lynn's motivations for becoming a writer was to tell stories he and his friends had lived, stories they couldn't find in books, stories of the "invisible" lives gay black men were leading in the late '80s and early '90s. To date, he has sold over 4 million copies of his books, which gave voice to a new generation of gay black men, and it is difficult to imagine our community without him, without his own unique voice of struggle, humor, and hard-earned acceptance.

Thanks to him, those lives will never be invisible again.

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