This is just too sad. I still cry every day since I heard the news on Friday.
On my way home from work, my manager sent me a text saying that E. Lynn Harris had passed away. Her husband called the store to let her know. (When you work in retail with no access to TV or radio, you need lifelines from the outside world to let you know whats happening.) I thought she was joking at first, but soon realized that she wouldn’t play around like that.
I started crying right there on the train as I searched the Internet on my crappy cell phone for more information. They were reporting that he had a heart attack in Los Angeles while on book tour.
I met Mr. Harris when I first moved to Atlanta in the early ’90’s (I never remember the exact year). I was managing First World Bookstore, a Black bookstore and he had just self-published Invisible Life and was taking it around to different outlets and selling it from the trunk of his car. My boss bought a whole box of them and we continued to buy from him directly until the mainstream publishing world caught wind and and he got his first book contract. We were as proud of him as if he were a family member.
Our paths have crossed many times over the years as the world of bookselling is small and the world of Black bookselling is even smaller. Those encounters became more frequent in the last couple of years since Harris moved into the neighborhood where my current job is located and we became an almost weekly stop for him. While I am the only employee there who reads his books, everyone there knew who he was and made sure to speak and treat him with respect (bookstore employees treat nice authors with a reverence that we seldom show to customers).
One of our cashiers, a straight White man, talked with Harris at length during each visit about the latest in college sports (both are avid fans) and Harris’ son, who was off to college himself.
Just a couple weeks ago, the last time I saw him, we talked about his new book contract and how excited he was. I always asked about what he was reading (Sag Harbor, which he liked & The Help, which he was not as enthusiastic about but determined to finish). He talked about connecting with fans on Facebook and I tried to convince him to get on Twitter!
Over the years I have told customers and friends that he was one of the few authors who consistently got better and better with each book. Yes, Invisible Life (and I read the self-published version) wasn’t the best written book, but I believe that he studied his craft and worked hard and it shows in every subsequent work since.
I will miss him as an author and as a member of my extended book community.