Media reports are now pouring in confirming that beloved author E. Lynn Harris has passed away of cardiac arrest in Los Angeles, as first reported by Arkansas Sports 360 and confirmed by blogger Rod McCollum of Rod 2.0.
Harris, the writer of groundbreaking gay-themed novels Invisible Life and Just As I Am, was a prolific author, publishing almost one book per year since 1994. From his first mass market book in 1994 to now, his work landed him on The New York Times bestseller list nine times and was repeatedly optioned by filmmakers and studios.
At the time of his death, Harris was in Los Angeles promoting his latest novel, Basketball Jones, the story of an NBA player on the verge of coming out of the closet. This novel continued Harris' pioneering tradition of depicting the complicated lives of Black gay men in various professions, but he had a acute sense of capturing the intricacies of closeted sports figures. Since Invisible Life, originally self published in 1991, his work was immediately embraced by large demographics of readers from gay men to Black straight women and sports lovers alike.
He was at times criticized for reinforcing the narrative of the "down low," but to his fans, the novels provided a multi-dimensional look at themes of justice, emotional responsibility, as well as sexual orientation.
In addition to his presence in entertainment, Harris was in demand as a lecturer and since 2003, was a visiting professor of English at University of Arkansas, his alma mater. At the school he was welcomed by his students, Black, White, gay or straight, "They all took me just as Professor E," he is reported as saying in a 2008 interview with the University of Arkansas Press.
Throughout his career, Harris received numerous awards. His anthology Freedom in this Village won the Lambda Literary Award in 2005. He was named to Ebony Magazine's "Most Intriguing Blacks" list, Out Magazine's "Out 100" list and New York Magazine's "Gay Power 101" list. His 1998 book If This World Were Mine was nominated for an NAACP Image Award and won the James Baldwin Award for Literary Excellence. During his career, he was also awarded the Harvey Milk Honorary Diploma, The Silas Hunt Award for Outstanding Achievement and Distinguished Alumni award from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
His enduring legacy will be his tradition of writing honestly and poignantly about subjects that, before him, were not placed atop mainstream bookshelves. With his visibility and public profile, he elevated the voices and stories of black gay men in the media. The world of fiction and the gay community has lost a pioneering voice and a gifted storyteller.