My love affair with E. Lynn Harris began in Brooklyn, New York. It was summertime, 1993 and the heat was sweltering thanks to the sun’s blazing fiery-orange above, clearly at its zenith. The flow of perspiring denizens who poured down Flatbush Avenue headed toward Fulton Street, ushered along by the thick bass of hip-hop and the sweet aromas of peddled incense.
A California girl new to Brooklyn, I’d stopped to ask directions, but my words caught in my throat. There he was, E. Lynn Harris. He was beckoning me. I had no idea who he was then, but my immediate need for him was clear. I had to make my way over. The attraction was powerful and urgent, leaving me no choice but to act. I pushed my way through the moving crowd without apology as I’d been taught to do my first week in New York, and made my way to the book table. I picked up “Invisible Life.” With a turn of the cover and a page or two, the copyright told me it’d been out for a while, however, for me it was new. It was brand new and necessary, and, though I didn’t realize it at the time, it would lay the path to my becoming a fiction author for the masses and a true admirer of E. Lynn, as both an author and person.
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Though “Invisible Life” wasn’t parallel to my world, I felt a kinship and connection to E. Lynn because I, like the main character in his book, had a secret life that not many were privy to. I was a writer, a fiction writer who hid behind songwriting and other types of prose. Although I’m sure it wasn’t his initial quest, he became my inspiration, and his novels became akin to self-help books because they assisted me on my journey to becoming published. And eventually, so did E. Lynn Harris.
Our first meeting would happen years later, poetically in New York where my love affair with his work first began. By then, we’d been emailing and, by happenstance, I’d come face to face with my unintentional mentor. “Keep writing with passion” was the first thing he said to me, followed by kind words about my then-unpublished work. Later, he’d followed up with occasional encouraging emails and books; one accompanied by a card that read, “Compliments of E. Lynn Harris,” and a congratulatory note when my novel finally released. Because of my unaffected nature, I’m not sure if E. Lynn ever really knew how much he’d moved and inspired me, how elated I’d been about our “talks,” though I’d made certain he knew I was appreciative. To this day, his words and actions are emblazoned in my mind; and, in part, because of him, his writing, kindness and encouragement, a part of my career is indeed Compliments of E. Lynn Harris because he helped lead the way. I’m forever grateful and thankful.
Pioneering author E. Lynn Harris passed away suddenly, one year ago on July 23, 2009, leaving behind an unparalleled literary legacy, including 10 NY Times bestsellers.
Jamise L. Dames is the national bestselling author of “Momma’s Baby, Daddy’s Maybe,” “Pushing up Daisies,” “Bedroom Chronicles” and “Intercourse.” She can be found online at www.JamiseLDames.com.