UPDATE: Server problems because of traffic.
Best selling black and openly gay author Everette Lynn Harris passed away overnight. He was on a book tour of the West Coast and only 54 years old.
Harris' work dealt with black gay culture, homophobia, religion and the black community. The plots—often featured around sports or entertainment—were a huge success with black women and made him a fixture on black talk radio. Harris was a passionate University of Arkansas Razorbacks fan and returned to his alma mater a visiting professor in the English department. Harris also recently became a mentor and father figure to two college students and athletes. "He was a very loving and involved dad," adds director Patrik Ian Polk.
In January, Harris wrote his 11th novel, Basketball Jones. The plot was ripped from the headlines about a closeted professional basketball player and a blackmail scandal. The book also featured the character of a well-known black gay blogger, which Harris said was inspired by this blog. Harris told Rod 2.0 the story came to him after a call from the manager of an NBA player. "The player wanted my advice because they were being blackmailed and were thinking about coming out. I was not told his name, or what team he played for, only that he might call and was considering coming out of the closet. ... So I started thinking, 'What if there were a professional basketball player who was involved with a man and wanted to come out?'"
Reportedly the author went into cardiac arrest last night after having dinner in Beverly Hills. Harris recently complained of his health and the stress of the book tour.
The news broke this morning across Twitter, the uber-popular instant message social networking platform. Patrik Ian Polk (@PatrikIanPolk), the director and creator of Noah's Arc, was supposed to meet Harris this afternoon for lunch and Tweets the details to Rod 2.0: "I called the [Peninsula Hotel] in Beverly Hills, to confirm lunch and hopefully laugh about the erroneous reports of his death. When the operator transferred me to a hotel manager, I knew something strange was up. This is unbelievable."
Polk adds that Lynn was visiting with one of his son's frat brothers "when he went into cardiac arrest ... I'm in shock. To have just spoken to him yesterday afternoon, this is hard to believe."
Keith Boykin adds: "Cedars-Sinai Hospital told Lynn's agent that [he] died Thursday night and his body is being transferred to the coroner's office." Harris' novel I Say a Little Prayer included a cameo by Boykin, marking his first appearance in a novel. Boykin's tribute to Harris is at The Daily Voice.
The Detroit native stormed the literary scene in 1994 with Invisible Life, an originally self-published story of bisexual Raymond Tyler. That and the sequel Just As I Am were among the earliest in a new wave of black gay literature that popularized and humanized black gay and bisexual literary characters. Harris was picked up by publishing giant Doubleday and had a string of best selling novels, including Any Way the Wind Blows, Abide with Me, Not a Day Goes By, and I Say a Little Prayer. Harris also wrote a memoir, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted, another New York Times best seller. Harris ultimately had ten New York Times best sellers. This feat has never been rivaled by any black author.
On a personal level: Lynn was a friend, a mentor and a very strong supporter of Rod 2.0. Before meeting in Chicago in the mid 90s, we actually had friends in common for several years and his ex, also named Roderick, was a mutual friend. (The joke was "Which Rod? 'Lynn' Rod or 'Rod Rod'?") Years later, when we finally met, ELH was guarded but extremely loving and giving. Lynn was very supportive of me last year during a personal problem and offered help, which I humbly refused. More importantly: Lynn never lost the common touch. Lynn often made Rod 2.0 his first stop on interviews and many times personally responded to comments, supportive and negative, via email. Classy to the end.