As we simultaneously mourn the passing of a literary pioneer and celebrate his life, accomplishments, and influence, let us remember the unique blend of characters and stories that endeared E. Lynn Harris to us. Here, I chronicle E. Lynn Harris’ array of 11 fiction books that made him a storytelling icon. By Trina Love Abram
Everette Lynn Harris
Sunrise: 06/20/1955 Sunset: 07/22/2009
1992 Invisible Life
03/1994 Just As I Am
03/1996 And This Too Shall Pass
08/1997 If This World Were Mine
03/1999 Invisible Life: Special edition
04/1999 Abide with Me
07/2000 Not A Day Goes By
07/2001 Any Way the Wind Blows
08/2002 A Love of My Own
05/2006 I Say A Little Prayer
07/2008 Just Too Good to be True
01/2009 Basketball Jones
Using his enigmatic prose and sizzling plots, Harris exposed the struggles of the lives of African American gay men and the women and men who loved them. In the early 90s, Harris’ themes were self-acceptance and awareness, love and family, which he exhibited through a key character, Raymond Tyler, who becomes an endearing character to most of Harris’ readers. Raymond appears in many of Harris’ books, but Invisible Life, Just As I Am, and Abide With Me is the trilogy that chronicles Raymond and Nicole’s struggle. He also weaves in John Basil Henderson, who is always available to thicken the plot and worsen the situation. Basil is a big hit with Harris’ readers and makes reappearances in several of Harris’ books.
In Harris’ first book, Invisible Life, Harris gave Raymond Tyler life and exposed the invisible, secret lives of bisexual men who enjoy both men and women, but don’t tell the women that they like men. When we meet Raymond he is struggling with his sexuality and running away from the feelings he has, but doesn’t really understand, for men. He finds himself in the agonizing predicament of being torn between his married male lover and Nicole, his fiancée. Invisible Life starts Raymond and Nicole’s journey of self-awareness and self-acceptance. This book was the first of its kind and stirred up lots of controversy.
Just As I Am picks up where Invisible Life stopped with Raymond and Nicole. Raymond combats something far more deadly than his sexuality, HIV. He still questions if he is gay or bisexual, and Basil Henderson’s peppered appearances make Raymond’s sexual identity crisis worse. Nicole tries to rebuild her life after Raymond’s bisexuality was exposed. She struggles with her career and her relationships with men. This book has an ensemble of colorful characters who aid Raymond and Nicole with their trials.
In And This Too Shall Pass, Harris takes us into the locker room and lives of some new characters who face scandal, heartbreak, and the challenge of self acceptance. Zurich is a quarter back for the fictional Chicago Cougars who is a rising star, until a potentially career-killing scandal erupts. Zurich’s grandmother, Mama Cee is an endearing character and a voice of reason and wisdom throughout the book. We also meet two new women who play integral parts in the rise and fall of Zurich’s career and the blotches on his character. Tamela is an attorney and Mia is a sportscaster. These characters must rely on faith and family to tread through tumultuous times.
Former NFL star, the infamous John Basil Henderson, reappears in If This World Were Mine with a much more prominent role. In If This World Were Mine, Harris gives us new characters—college friends who love one another like family, are committed and loyal to one another, but whose loyalty and friendship is challenged as their love lives collide. Yolanda, Riley, Leland, and Dwight share their lives, goals, and heartaches in a collective journal that they keep called “If This World Were Mine.”
Abide With Me begins where Just As I Am ended with Harris revisiting Raymond and Nicole. Raymond and Trent are exclusively dating and doing well. They moved to Seattle, but just when things are going well for Raymond he gets blackmailed, creating yet another scandal in his life. Nicole is living her dream starring in Dreamgirls, when her life begins to unravel. John Basil Henderson reappears in this book, adding more controversy to the mayhem, and we meet a new character, villainess Yancey Harrington Braxton, who wants Nicole’s star role in the production, and does everything she can to take the role. In Abide With Me Harris encourages readers to live, love, and dream.
It is the year 2000; Harris brings in the Millennium with a collision of the characters that we love to hate, John Basil Henderson and Yancey Harrington Braxton. The Basil and Yancey books, Not A Day Goes By and Any Way the Wind Blows, are like watching a nighttime saga unwrap. Scandal, deceit, and romance drip from the pages intertwining to create a cast of calamities. The sagacious plot twists coupled with the characters’ fast-paced, catastrophic lives makes this saga a favorite for Harris’ readers. Not A Day Goes By and Any Way the Wind Blows, were also published in a smaller, savvy hardcover that is the size of a paperback. The glossy gold siding was eye catching and the petite size fit perfectly into beach bags.
In Not a Day Goes By, commitment-phobic, homophobic, bisexual, handsome, and conceited Basil Henderson meets his match in the beautiful, driven, yet sinister vixen Yancey Harrington Braxton. When these two collide, they create a destructive kinetic explosion of lust and treachery. Sparks flying, is an understatement, but the matching duplicity of Basil and Yancey may be too much for the damaged pair’s relationship to withstand. Amiable Zurich Robinson, from a previous novel, and Yancey’s charitable roommate Windsor balance out the corruption and hard edge that Basil and Yancey incubate in this novel.
Harris reunites Basil and Yancey in Any Way the Wind Blows, which picks up where Not A Day Goes By drops off with Basil jilting Yancey on their wedding day. Basil is on the prowl again discarding his conquests, women and men, but Bart Dunbar doesn’t plan on allowing Basil to forget about him. Yancey makes her comeback as a recording star, but revenge is on Yancey’s mind. As she plots her vengeance to expose Basil’s fraudulent sexual preferences and rises as a singing star phenomenon, her past intersects with her present with a whirlwind of destruction and danger. Basil and Yancey boast enough lack of scruples and cunning to entirely devour this story, but Harris adds in an equally indomitable character, Bart, whose shrewd obsession increases the scandal and suspense, taking the usual chaos to a higher level.
In A Love of My Own, Harris returns to his themes of love, friendship, and family, where we check in with Raymond Tyler Jr who relocates to New York after enduring a tragic ordeal. Raymond is older now, confident in his sexuality, more mature, and ready for a love of his own. As the CEO of Bling Bling magazine, Raymond experiences success in his career, but his love life is a little lackluster, so his search for love lands him with the worst person for Raymond. Basil Henderson has a new woman in his life, but still finds time to play Russian roulette with Raymond’s heart. Zola Norwood is the Editor-in-Chief at Bling Bling. Even though she wants a love of her own, she surrounds herself with multiple men, each satisfying a specific need. But what happens when this scene gets old? A number of past characters reappear in this novel adding to its lure and endearment. Harris incorporates a lot of real-world events in this novel, which force Zola, Raymond, and their friends to examine their lives and priorities.
In Say A Little Prayer, Harris addresses the controversial issues of gay marriage and the gay position in African American church. Through the main character, Chauncey Greer, Harris demonstrates the difficulty in standing up for what you believe in. After his pastor preaches an inspiring message, the bisexual Chauncy decides to resurrect his singing career, which ended earlier in his life behind a cacophony of lies. Chauncey’s plans are progressing favorably until the pastor of his church speaks out against homosexual relationships and gay marriages, hurting Chauncey and infuriating his friends who plan to boycott. Chauncy is torn between using a church event to flourish his singing career or joining with his friends to stand for what they think is right.
Just Too Good To Be True visits the life of a rising college football star. Brady Bledsoe is headed to the NFL. With so many people contending for his attention, offering to represent him, and throwing endorsements at him, it’s hard for Brady to know who to trust. Brady’s mother, Carmyn, owns a beauty shop and is keeping a very big secret from Brady. She devoted her life to her son and his dream of becoming a professional football player. Even though she’s keeping secrets, lying about her past, and sneaking around, Carmyn still manages to instill in Brady the importance of honesty, integrity, and celibacy. But when a beautiful, bodacious cheerleader sets her sites on Brady and his future fame and fortune, his mother’s teachings fly right out of the window. In this novel, Harris highlights the close relationship between mother and son and the destruction that lies and secrets cause.
In Basketball Jones, Harris “explores the consequences of loving someone who is forced to conform to the rules society demands of its public heroes.” Aldridge James Richardson lives extremely comfortably and has money at his disposal, thanks to his long-time lover Dray Jones. Masquerading as Dray’s interior designer and stylist, Aldridge did everything for Dray, including keeping their relationship a secret. Dray Jones is a successful, famous basketball player and an icon in the community who hides his sexuality…or so he thinks. When someone gets proof that Dray and Aldridge have more than a professional relationship, the blackmail starts, and panic ensues as they attempt to figure out who has the proof because if exposed, both Aldridge and Dray loose.
© 2009 KaTrina Love Abram