Three Stories in Tribute to E. LYNN HARRIS
James Earl Hardy
Stanley Bennett Clay
FOREWORD Victoria Christopher Murray ? A TRIBUTE Terrance Dean ? THE INTERN Terrance Dean Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty-one Chapter Twenty-two Chapter Twenty-three ? A TRIBUTE James Earl Hardy ? IS IT STILL JOOD TO YA? James Earl Hardy August 13, 2003, 12:23 P.M. August 14, 2003, 3:55 P.M. August 15, 2003, 7:55 A.M. November 18, 2009, 8:00 P.M.
? A TRIBUTE Stanley Bennett Clay ? HOUSE OF JOHN Stanley Bennett Clay Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen ? Epilogue
Victoria Christopher Murray
When I was first asked to write the foreword to this tribute anthology, I thought it was suchan honor and would be an effortless task. After all, I counted E. Lynn among my dear friendsand I’d spent quite a bit of time talking to him, working with him, laughing with him. Surelythis was going to be one of the easiest pieces I’d ever had to write.
Then, I sat down. And for days, I just couldn’t find the words. How do you sum up the life ofa man who did so much for so many? How could I do justice to the man who meant so much to me?
It took hours—days, really—to come up with three words: faith, family, and friends. Simplewords, but ones that truly describe the essence of E. Lynn Harris.
I don’t think many knew of E. Lynn’s love for the Lord as he expressed it in theacknowledgments of his last novel. But E. Lynn’s spirituality was at his center—it was hisfaith that made him such a gentle, caring soul who wanted to live right and live for others. Itwas his faith that helped him to be steadfast in his beliefs and to accept and love the manywho did not accept or love him.
Then, there was E. Lynn—the family man. As quiet as it was kept, E. Lynn really could havebeen called a mama’s boy who expressed his love for his mother and his aunt openly andhonestly. And the love he had for his son, Brandon, and his godson, Sean, who both broughtyears of joy to E. Lynn’s life. He couldn’t do enough for either of his sons—working hard togive them what he didn’t have growing up: the best of everything. Even as E. Lynn’s celebritygrew, his familial roots remained strong. Nothing was ever going to come before those he loved.
And finally, there were E. Lynn’s friends, although none of us ever felt that we were in thebackseat in any part of his life. One of his greatest strengths was his ability to make youfeel as if you were the most important person at any particular moment. Not only did hisfriends feel this way, but so did the thousands of readers who received personal e-mails,Christmas cards, or birthday notes from him. E. Lynn’s desire was always to stay connected—hewas determined to let readers know how grateful he was for them, how aware he was that so muchof his success was because of them.
It was his faith, his family, and his friends that made E. Lynn give so much of himself. Icannot count the number of authors who have E. Lynn Harris quotes on their novels, or thenumber of aspiring writers who have an E. Lynn Harris e-mail with a heartening word, or thenumber of author friends who achieved new levels of publishing success because E. Lynn passedon a good (stern) word of advice.
Just sitting and pondering all that E. Lynn has done lets me know that there are not enoughwords, not enough accolades that can be given to the man who arguably had the greatestprofessional and personal impact on the literary world in the last twenty years. He opened theeyes of an entire generation of women (and men) with his page-turning, hard-hitting novelsabout men on the down-low. He paved the path for many self-published authors. He helped to openpublishing houses’ doors to many African American writers who would have never been given achance before Terry McMillan and E. Lynn Harris.
But with all that I’ve said, there is one thing that I know for sure. If E. Lynn were readingthis tribute right now, he would say that none of the above really matters. I can almost hearhim….
“The only thing that counts, Vicki, is that people knew that I was a good son, a good father,a good friend. Did I accomplish that?”
And, I would answer him with a resounding “Yes!” E. Lynn was an amazing son, father, andfriend, and so I was not surprised when these authors—Terrance Dean, Stanley Bennett Clay, andJames Earl Hardy—decided to come together to do their own E. Lynn tribute to honor the man whoimpacted their lives…to step forward and pay their respect in the manner that E. Lynn loved somuch: through the written word, through three captivating stories.
It makes me so sad to think that I will never again hear, in this life, the calming voice of myfriend, passing on to me an encouraging word, or a silly story, or even a thought-provokingdiscussion about the challenges in this industry. But then, in the next moment, my sadness isreplaced by happiness when I think of the positive impact that Lynn had on me and countlessothers. It makes me smile to know that I will one day get the chance to see him again.
What a joy it is to be part of this tribute to a man who cared and loved beyond limits. Rest inpeace, my dear friend. You have left a legacy of literature and love that few will ever be ableto match.
By Terrance Dean
Originally published in The Advocate
magazine, September 2009 issue
In the summer of 1992, I’d just graduated from Fisk University in Nashville and broken up withmy girlfriend. I went to Atlanta with some of my down-low friends to hang out and explore theburgeoning gay scene in the rising black metropolis. While at our host’s apartment I saw atattered book on the coffee table. The title, Invisible Life, immediately leapt to my
attention. For the next six hours, as I sat engrossed in this novel, the sounds of talk andlaughter all around me receded.
I hung on every word. Page after page, I consumed the intricate life of the protagonist,Raymond. His life was so much like mine. He was confused, angry, sad, forever asking, “Why wasI this way?” I couldn’t help but wonder who had taken a peek into my own secret life and putit in a book.
I frequently turned the book over to read the title and author’s name, . How didE. Lynn Harris
he understand how it felt to be caught like this, between two worlds, heterosexual andhomosexual? Like Raymond, and like thousands of men, I later discovered, I felt like ananomaly. There were so many of us, and we all felt uniquely burdened and isolated. But, thatsummer, after reading Harris’s breakthrough novel, I felt I was not alone.
Seventeen years later, while driving from Detroit back home to New York City on July 24th, Ireceived a message on my BlackBerry from my publisher stating, “E. Lynn Harris died.”Shocked, I immediately called. My fingers trembled as I pushed the numbers on my cell phone.What was this nonsense about E. Lynn dying? He couldn’t be. I had just heard from him earlierthat week. He was in good spirits. My publisher confirmed the message, “Yes, sweetie, E. Lynnis dead.” I burst into tears. I screamed. I couldn’t focus on the road. I pulled off in arest area and wept. I cried for my friend and mentor.
I met E. Lynn in 1999, when I invited him to be a featured guest at an event I was organizingat the Harlem YMCA. “Of course I will come,” he said at the time. “It would be my honor.”Gracious, humble, accommodating—three attributes I would come to know as integral parts of hischaracter.
I was unprepared for Harris’s fan base. Women lined up, out the door, and around the corner ofour small room at the Harlem Y, to meet him. He smiled, shook hands, took pictures, and signedmany, many copies of his books without complaint. Black women loved E. Lynn. For the first timehe gave them a glance into a hidden world of intricate and compelling love stories betweenathletes and professionals, gays and men on the down-low. Black men loved E. Lynn, too. Hisnovels told our stories, in our words. He was a trailblazer, a pioneer. And, whether herecognized it or not, he carved out a unique literary niche that made publishers take notice.
He embodied the Harlem Renaissance, the spirit of the social activism of James Baldwin, thecunning and wit of Langston Hughes, the romance of Countee Cullen, and the ingeniousstorytelling of Zora Neale Hurston. He became the voice of the black gay community, and becauseof his books we were all talking about the new phenomenon to which he had introduced us. Hiswriting about the down-low sparked a national dialogue.
In August 2003 the New York Times Magazine wrote on the topic and the floodgates opened.
Magazines, newspapers, even Oprah, all dove in. E. Lynn had created a sensation but he nevertook credit. He merely said, “I just want to write books and tell stories that are personal tome.”
His courageousness helped to open the doors to other black gay writers such as Keith Boykin,James Earl Hardy, Stanley Bennett Clay, Fred Smith, J.L. King, Lee Hayes, Rodney Lofton, andme. Harris also influenced female writers—Zane, Karen E. Quinones Miller, and VictoriaChristopher Murray—to include gay and down-low characters in their works.
E. Lynn was a movement. Before he died from a heart attack in his hotel room in Los Angeles, hewas gearing up for the promotion of his newest book, Mama Dearest, and had just met with a
television producer. I’m told he signed over the rights to his books to be developed for TV.
was the book he had self-published and sold fromMy introduction to E. Lynn, Invisible Life,
the trunk of his car to salons and beauty parlors in Atlanta. Since then, ten of his booksbecame best sellers. The publishing world was once nearly void of contemporaryNew York Times
black gay literature. Now it’s filled with over four million copies in print by Harris alone.
Over the years he often encouraged me to not be afraid to share my voice. “Boy, you got astory to tell,” he would often say. “Don’t be afraid to share it. There are many men justlike you who would benefit from your words.” Like few others who’ve walked this earth, E.Lynn knew the power that comes from telling our stories. He will be missed more than he couldhave known.
I miss you dearly!
Based on a semi-true story…