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A visible life: superstar novelist E. Lynn Harris talks about his new memoir, from growing up "sissy" in the South to achieving success beyond his dreams. (books).

In his 1991 debut novel, Invisible Life, E. Lynn Harris captivated readers with his sexy yet romantic and emotional story of a young black man struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. A year earlier Harris himself nearly lost his own struggle with that very same issue. In August 1990, in a one-bedroom apartment in Washington, D.C., a very depressed Harris made the decision to end his own life. "I felt that my family's love was not enough and that I had no reason to believe in God, much less live another day." What was so upsetting? The belief that he couldn't bear the pressure of going through life as a gay black man.

Fortunately, his suicide attempt was unsuccessful. Since releasing his first novel, Harris has become one of America's most popular writers. Now, 13 years and seven novels later, including five that have been on The New York Times best-seller list, Harris is telling a new story: his own.

What Becomes of the Brokenhearted has all the dramatic elements of a compelling piece of fiction: an abusive, homophobic stepfather, a real father the young hero discovers while still an adolescent, only to lose him in a tragic accident before he gets to know him; early sexual experiences; a young man's constant struggle for acceptance; the loss of friends and lovers as an adult; and the final crash at the bottom before his eventual rise to the top. Harris shares the positive experiences that have helped him become the proud, successful, happy black gay man he is today.

Why write a memoir, as opposed to another novel, and why now?

I felt like the more I talked to people in the press, the more bits and pieces of the story would get out anyway. It also gave me a chance to look back on the relationships that were so strong and positive in my life--the friends I've had for all these years.

What was the hardest part to write about?

All of it was hard. But I wouldn't have done it if I thought it would bring back pain that I couldn't recover from. I didn't want this to be a "woe is me" type of memoir, and a couple of years ago it would have been.

So you feel like you've reached a point where you can say, "I've healed and I can move on"?

I don't think we ever totally heal. I think you'd be fooling yourself to think that. But I can move on, and that's what I'm doing.

Can you say you've forgiven your stepfather?

To be honest, I don't think about my stepfather. I moved on.

What would you say to young folks with similarly homophobic parents?

I would advise them to simply hold on and know that better days are ahead. Parents in most cases do the best that they can with the skills they have, given their backgrounds. I know it's rough, but try not to take it personally--people don't know how to deal with what they don't understand. Just hold on to the belief that one day you'll be on your own and be able to make a life for yourself.

Even when parents don't change, the world does.

Kids today have so many resources that weren't available 20 years ago. If you look online or in magazines like this one, you can find information on places where you can get help. The most important thing I could probably say is, find some support and find a way to get help. Don't suffer in silence.

Judging by the title, a reader might think your story is mostly a sad one.

But it's not. This story has a happy ending. I'm here to say that brokenhearted people, whether they've had their hearts broken by love or family members or what have you, can survive it. They can find happiness, and they can find love.

Foxxe is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles.
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Author:Foxxe, Austin
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Jul 8, 2003
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