Saturday, February 14, 2009
[NOTE: E. Lynn Harris’ death on July 23, 2009 is a terrible shocking loss, and to lose him at such a young age compounds the feeling. His books have been eagerly awaited and his avid readers had been looking forward to dozens more. His personal charm and directness at appearances made him all the more cherished, and E. Lynn Harris cared about his fans and it showed.]
Novelist E. Lynn Harris visited San Francisco’s Main Public Library on his latest book tour on February 12, 2009. His popularity is the envy of many writers, and he is the only African-American writer to have ten books on the New York Times Best Sellers list. More than 3 million people have read his books.
The library audience was surprised that he did not read from his latest book “Basketball Jones.” Harris is particular about how his stage appearance would be conducted. He said that he does not read, but that he preferred to speak about his work, and then he engaged in a question-and-answer session with the audience.
His writing process is a revelation. The plots are not drawn up in advance on a chart, and he does not have a preconception of the characters and their motivations. Harris said that the stories and the lives of the people in his novels flow out of him as he thinks about them. It is as if he becomes possessed.
As a gay African-American writer with themes that mirror some of his experiences, E. Lynn Harris assumed that his readership would be mostly gay men. Instead, the majority of his readers are straight African-American women. And more shocking to Harris, when a novel strays into straight story-lines he receives complaints from the women fans. They want to read gay storylines.
The fervor of his fans was demonstrated when a woman in the audience spoke passionately about how much she loved his books, and that she had read all of them. She also said that she wanted to climb into his latest novel and “punch out” some of the characters.
E. Lynn Harris has drawn almost 100 people to small downtown San Francisco book store book parties. His Oakland appearance on the following night was expected to be packed. He is a hands-on author who emails readers personally and manages a large mailing list that updates his work and his appearances. And he edited a book to which local writer Sidney Brinkley was a contributor. Sidney was at the event to welcome him to The City.
And Harris knew how to please his guests. Just before he left the stage to sign books, he said that he had been in San Francisco when he was in his 20’s and enjoyed himself, and that “San Francisco is the most magical place in the world.”
[Photo caption: 2/14/09 — Author E. Lynn Harris at the San Francisco Main Library. He spoke eloquently about his unusual writing process and led a spirited Q&A. And he posed with San Francisco writer Sidney Brinkley and signed a book for him.]