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One year ago: E. Lynn Harris

July 23, 2010 |  6:00 am

E. Lynn Harris, who broke ground with his bestselling novels featuring gay black characters, died one year ago Friday while visiting Los Angeles. A resident of Atlanta and Fayetteville, Ark., he was 54.

Harris took the long road to literary success. After quitting his job as a computer salesman and while struggling with depression, he told a doctor that he had always dreamed of being a writer.

"Why don't you do it?" the doctor asked.

Then in his 30s, Harris got to work on his first novel. "Invisible Life" was about a previously straight black man who becomes attracted to a man during college and begins leading a double life. Rejected by publishers, Harris decided to self-publish 5,000 copies in 1991. He sold them wherever he could and would leave the books in black beauty parlors with a note inside saying, "If you like this book, please go to your local bookstore and ask them to order it."

He found his audience in this fashion and attracted the attention of Doubleday, which bought the reprint rights.

Harris followed with "Just As I Am: A Novel," "And This Too Shall Pass" and others.

"It's not that there weren't black gay authors writing and being published before," Charles Flowers, Harris' editor at Doubleday, told Times reporter Dennis McLellan. "You obviously had James Baldwin and Audre Lorde, but he broke out in kind of a very popular literature that had not been done before, and the majority of his audience were straight black women."

Harris' last novel, "In My Father's House," was published last month.

Read the entire obituary of E. Lynn Harris that appeared in The Times.

-- Claire Noland