E. Lynn Harris, author of bestseller Invisible Life, comes to Houston to celebrate Resurrection MCC’s 35th anniversary. Plus Resurrection, the Early Years (WEB ONLY)
Ever since he stepped onto the literary scene in 1991 with his self-published debut, Invisible Life, E. Lynn Harris has become a major force to be reckoned with. All 10 of his books have been bestsellers and combined have sold in excess of three million copies. He is an accomplished storyteller who writes warm and passionate novels that take you into the rarely depicted world of black gay men. In 2006 he released I Say a Little Prayer (Doubleday), which dealt with struggles within the black church concerning gay rights. Harris took a very delicate topic that many in the black church are not willing to address and prompted readers to challenge their views and opinions on all lifestyles.
Harris, who currently lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and Atlanta, is the guest this month for the 35th anniversary celebrations of Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church. On April 28, he will appear as part of Twisted Torch, a concert presented by Mukuru Art Against AIDS. On April 29, he will speak at both Sunday-morning worship services and will then sign copies of his books during a 12:30 p.m. jazz brunch.
In a recent interview with OutSmart, Harris spoke about Dreamgirls, what inspired him to become a writer, and his opinion on issues concerning the black GLBT community.
Christopher Whaley : Mr. Harris, with all the hype surrounding Dreamgirls, a lot people are unaware that in the fall of 2001, you made your Broadway debut as a narrator in a benefit performance of the play. What was that experience like for you?
E. Lynn Harris: It was one of those dreams come true for me because I never thought that it would happen. I’ve always been a fan of Broadway, but I’m no actor, no dancer, no singer, and that was a dream that I’ve never dreamed for myself. It was an incredible two weeks rehearsing with all the cast mates, and they all took me under their wing since I was the only non-actor in the play. It was a wonderful experience that I will always remember.
What is your take on the latest incarnation of Dreamgirls with Beyoncé and Jennifer Hudson?
I loved it even though it took me a long time to go see it because I thought I would be disappointed. I liked it because they stayed true to the story.
You’ve also completed a screenplay for the remake of the 1976 classic film Sparkle, which featured Irene Cara and Lonette McKee. What are the latest developments surrounding this project?
I don’t know. It was done with Aaliyah in mind [the singer/actress who died in a 2001 plane crash], and after that I heard some rumblings that they were thinking about doing it again. However, I am out of the loop now and when they needed a rewrite, I wasn’t in the position to do it.
Mr. Harris, take me back to the beginning if you don’t mind. What inspired you to quit your job in sales and write your first novel, Invisible Life?
It was that desire to do something that I would enjoy doing. I wasn’t happy doing the sales work and I was looking for something that would bring me joy.
What obstacles did you encounter with Invisible Life?
Nobody wanted to publish it because there wasn’t a market for that, and as a result, I created my own market. As it went on, the support grew because a lot of people didn’t know what I was doing. I took the book to black-owned bookstores and beauty salons, and the book caught fire.
Now let’s get deep in this conversation, Mr. Harris. You tend to write about black characters dealing with different aspects of their sexuality, especially homosexuality and bisexuality. What gave you the motivation to write about black life that some people find so taboo?
I was just telling my story. You can’t write about what you don’t know. Somebody had to write about it, and I wanted to write because it was very easy for me.
In the black church, most likely you will see such characters as the gay piano player, the flaming choir director, the down-low deacon, and the in-the-closet preacher. Yet homophobia runs so rampant throughout the congregation. What is your opinion about this?
My last book, I Say a Little Prayer, is where I wrote about this topic. I wrote about it, and that’s all I want to say about it. I think it’s hypocritical, and now my thoughts about it are out there in print.
With all the strides that the black community has made over the years, why do you think we as a people are still in the closet when it comes to GLBT issues?
I really don’t know. I get asked that a lot of times, and I have no idea why it’s such a big deal for us. We would rather die than talk about it.
You are well known for your lectures and presentations. What’s your advice to someone who’s dealing with sexuality issues and may have a fear of coming out?
You do it on your own time, and don’t let anyone tell you when the time is appropriate. Only you will know when it’s time.
Christopher Whaley is a poet and spoken-word artist and editor-in-chief of the Houston music magazine SOBO/Soulful Bohemian. He also previews the Homo Revolution Tour in this issue (“Hip-Hop Homos”). These are his first contributions to OutSmart.
The members of Resurrection Community Church celebrate the 35th anniversary of their congregation with a slate of events, which include these:
A golf tournament on April 21 at Bear Creek Park.
Twisted Torch, a concert presented by Mukuru Art Against AIDS, on April 28. The evening features spirituals as well as works by Mozart and gay composers Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland performed by soprano Cassandra White and the pianist and Mukuru artistic director Rodney Waters. Tickets: www.mukuru.org.
Author E. Lynn Harris speaks at 9 and 11 a.m. worship services on April 29. He then signs copies of his books at a jazz brunch at 12:30 p.m.
More info: www.resurrectionmcc.org.
See also WEB EXTRA: Resurrection, the Early Years.
Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church is now the largest of the worldwide MCC fellowship of GLBT-positive congregations. The local church began as a small group of the faithful who gathered in a living room.