E. Lynn Harris
is the New York Times bestselling author of And This Too Shall Pass
(1996), If This World Were Mine
(1997), Abide With Me
(1999), Not A Day Goes By
(2000) and A Love of My Own
(2002). He self-published his first work, Invisible Life
in 1991 before being picked up by Anchor, an arm of now publisher Random House.
In this interview, The University of Arkansas Razorback talks about men on the down low; his memoir What Becomes of the Brokenhearted
; his latest novel I Say A Little Prayer
; his straight female fans; and the first time he admitted he was gay.
I was with my aunt and sister the last time I saw you in Atlanta. They almost passed out when you walked by. Did you ever think you, as a gay author, would have such an avid straight female fan base?
No, I really didn't. I never thought about having fans at all. I just wanted to write. And the fact that I have such wonderful fans is kind of an unexpected bonus.
What Becomes of the Brokenhearted is an extremely candid memoir. They say writing one's life story can be very cathartic. What was your experience?
It was the hardest book I've ever written, but it was very cathartic. So much so that I plan to do it again at some point. I don't want people to think that my life has a story book ending because it doesn't. I want to let other people know that we go through obstacles all the time, but you have to keep getting back up.
Have you made any changes in your life or the way you write since writing your memoir?
I'm still passionate about writing and I can only write the things that I'm interested in. The journal that I've been keeping is a way for me to deal with my reassurances of depression.
Many gay men suffer from depression. It's way more prevalent than many are willing to admit. How has your battle with depression been and what other tools do you use to battle your reassurances?
Well, a lot of it is my faith in God and the other component is exercise. I didn't want to go back to taking medicine even though friends encouraged me to. It's a big obstacle, but I do my daily prayers and my exercises even on those days that I don't feel like doing it.
When did you come out?
I don't even know. People ask me that question a lot. I didn't want to talk about my sexuality after I wrote In The Life
in 1992. When people would ask I would say it wasn't about me. I really didn't want to talk about my personal life; and then I realized how important it was to a lot of young people that I stated what was so. When I saw how it could benefit other people I decided that it was something I was called upon to do.
Are your novels, such as Just As I Am and Invisible life, reflection of you then?
Yes, I always try to write about what's going on in my life. The last book, I Say A Little Prayer
, was me dealing with my faith in the Black Church. My next book will be the first one that doesn't deal with me directly and it took longer to write.
What's the best thing you've ever written?
I don't have a favorite.
I'm assuming you don't have a least favorite either...
I want to jump to one of your characters, Raymond Tyler of Invisible Life (1992) and Just As I Am, who was on the down low way before it was tagged on Oprah. In your opinion, do men on the DL deserve reprimand or sympathy?
Sympathy. It's difficult for a lot of Black men to be honest about [their sexuality]. I'm fortunate enough to have a career where I can be who I am and I don't have to lie about it. I understand that the rest of the world isn't as accepting. I don't condone it, but I understand it.
Sexuality in the African-American community is much more fluid than most are willing to admit. The love attractions in your novels are a reflection of that. What can the African-American community do to be more open and inclusive in terms of sexuality?
We have to if we're going to survive as a community. It's easy to judge and say this isn't a part of our community because for so long so much was expected of the few Black men that were doing things. I know that was one of my main issues. I knew that my community expected a lot out of me because I was a smart kid. They wanted so much for me. It didn't really matter what I wanted or what I needed or what my life really was—I was a reflection of them and I didn't ever want to disappoint. I think a lot of young Black men—gay or straight—still wrestle with that.
Self-publishing or publishing houses: Which is better?
Publishing house! I self-published Invisible Life
when it first came out and it was the hardest I've ever worked. There is no way of describing what the support of a publisher means.
There are many gay authors that choose to self-publish without even attempting to go through a traditional publishing house. What's the biggest misconception about publishing houses?
There are specialty houses that are more apt to publish a gay author. I've been very lucky because they don't view me as a gay author, sort of speak. They just see me as one of their authors, especially when you start considering the number of books I sell.
Your lasted novel, I Say A Little Prayer, once again hit the critics' sweet spot. Do you feel pressure to produce bestsellers?
I want to critics to like it and I want the fans to like it, but you can't please them all the time. So, I really try not to worry about it. I don't read reviews. I do the best job that I can and when I close the door to that novel and those characters I move on to the next one.
What can old and new E. Lynn fans expect from I Say A Little Prayer?
Hopefully it's just another riveting read. Hopefully it will make people think about the way the Church treats gay people.