I lost a literary role model today, with the death of E. Lynn Harris. Below is a blog I originally posted on June 17, 2007, about how his work inspired me as a young adult and motivated me to consider a career as a novelist. We definitely lost a trailblazer today. fs.
One thing that many of my friends and I have in common is that the book Invisible Life by E. Lynn Harris affirmed who we were as young men coming of age. Or at least gave us the clue that we weren't "the only one" dealing with sexual orientation and coming of age.
Many of the stories are the same, no matter what part of the U.S. you visit. Either "discovered" the book by mistake at a library, bookstore, street vendor. Or had a female friend refer the book to them to read. Or overheard someone talking about it, and then had to figure out a way to get it.
For me, I was a h.s. senior or college freshman, on break from school and working at a record store in Northland Mall outside Detroit, and saw the book cover while perusing the mall bookstore during a work break. Bought it, stuck it in a bag of other purchases (because my co-workers, other teenage boys, were nosy like that -- duh a book? what kind of book?), and snuck and read it at night in my room.
I talked about it in a Backstory interview how Invisible Life, and other work by then-emerging black writers in the early/mid 90s, spoke to me and my life experience in ways that I hadn't seen in books by black people. I often revisit Invisible Life, re-reading it just to remember the magic of Raymond's life, his process with his sexual orientation.
It affirmed that I was OK being who and what I was/am. That we didn't have to lead an invisible life because of who we are.
Hope you get to revisit Invisible Life this summer. And, if not the book, revisiting the memories, innocence, and how exciting you saw your emerging life could be.