Last Friday (July 24), author E. Lynn Harris died. Though his passing is getting some attention, by comparison, the deaths of other, more famous people have peppered the mainstream media at a much higher rate. A lot of folks (still) don’t know who he is. Either way, learning of his death gave me pause. Not because I’m TOTALLY. FREAKED. OUT. by all these famous black people dying, but because I am surrounded by friends–internet and otherwise–who were deeply moved by his work.
I can’t say I ever paid much attention to novels. When it comes to things literary, I can be a bit of a snob. (Yes, life can be explained with the help of an episode or two of The Golden Girls, but sometimes stories from the Bottom, a well-lit hole in the basement, or Yoknapatawpha County are helpful.) I will also admit that I didn’t appreciate Harris while he was here. Since his passing, I picked up a copy of Invisible Life, and though it’s not my cup of chai, I respect the man for what he did. When the novel was published in the 1990s, black sexuality and tales of black men on the “down low” weren’t as accessible as they are now. Harris is credited with birthing that change. And for that, I won’t front on him.
Though Harris may never appear in the canon that the literati like to protect themselves with, one cannot deny–no matter the opinion on Harris’ politics, writing chops, subject matter, whatever–the positive impact he had on many lives. Since his death, several of my queer homies have discussed how instrumental Harris’ work was to them–in coming out, in accepting and loving themselves, in their entire self-actualization process. Writing, art can do so much: take us to different places, help us imagine a different world, expand our minds, heal and accept ourselves. And I think bastards like me often forget that, especially as we construct elaborate theories about 1,369 lights. Though I hate that it came through Harris’ death, I’m glad to be reminded.
Thank you, E. Lynn. I appreciate the lesson. Rest well.