Friday, July 24, 2009

Invisible Life

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.


unedited-life said...

Sounds interesting... I only read one of E. Lynn Harris book, A Love of my Own. I may add this one to my Summer Reading list.

Unknown said...

I think Invisible Life and Just as I Am (his first two books) are his best. My partner and I were fortunate enough to buy a copy of Invisible from the man himself, at Black Pride DC *Before* he made it big (it's one of the self-published editions, that he was selling out of the back of his car)!

T. Zac. R. d V. said...

wow I had a completely different reaction when I saw that book. It was also in Detroit, only I was at a book store in the Renaissance Center in Downtown Detroit, I remember I was in high school. I saw that book and recoiled. Then my cousin bought it. I stayed far away from it. Now I am out and I still haven't read it.

Unknown said...

INVISIBLE LIFE impacted me tremendously Fred and I was grateful to not only read the novel twice (which I own) but also meet him back in January. He will not be forgotten. Inspiration to us all. RIP E. Lynn Harris.

Joseph said...

Two summers ago, I think, you wrote about reading Invisible Life while in college and how much of an impact it had on your life. Well, I am not sure if I had heard of Harris prior to this point but I can tell you that after I read your story I went out and borrowed it from the library. It was so good that I ended up reading his entire catalog that summer. So thank you Fred for introducing me to Harris' work. He will be missed.

Carleen Brice said...

E. Lynn left quite a legacy.