E. Lynn Harris, an openly gay pioneer of gay and bisexual black fiction and a literary entrepreneur who rose from self-publishing to best-selling status, has died, his publicist said Friday. He was 54. Publicist Laura Gilmore said Harris died Thursday night after being stricken at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, and a cause of death had not been determined. She said Harris, who lived in Atlanta, fell ill on a train to Los Angeles a few days ago and blacked out for a few minutes, but seemed fine after that. Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter said only that a man matching Harris’ name and date of birth had died Thursday night at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, which was confirmed by hospital spokeswoman Simi Singer. Gilmore said an autopsy would be performed Monday or Tuesday.
An improbable and inspirational success story, Harris worked for a decade as an IBM executive before taking up writing, selling the novel Invisible Life from his car as he visited salons and beauty parlors around Atlanta. He had unprecedented success for an openly gay black author and his strength as a romance writer led some to call him the “male Terry McMillan.”
He went on to mainstream success with works such as the novel Love of My Own and the memoir What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.