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Sunday, February 19, 2006

E. Lynn Harris speaks out

Last month, African-American literature came under attack in a New York Times op-ed article written by author Nick Chiles, editor of Odyssey Colour magazine. Chiles, who considers himself a literary writer, sweepingly dismissed most of the newly released books by Af-Am authors as nothing more than smut. He specifically expressed disdain for the books targeted at young women readers, calling it "pornography for black women."

In an interview with the Philadelphia Star-Telegram, author E. Lynn Harris challenges Chiles' indictment. Harris, who began an escalating career with novels centering on gay characters, admits succumbing to the glamour of celebrity, and had stepped away from the limelight for a while to get reconnected to himself. Suffering from depression and even contemplating suicide after breaking up with his partner of seven years, Harris found an unexpected respite with a request by his alma mater, the University of Arkansas, to teach a class. The month teaching writing and Af-Am literature in Fayetteville allowed him to focus on what he needed, and that wasn't being a celebrity writer. A month eventually turned into three years and Harris has no immediate plans to walk away from his teaching duties.

A newly re-energized Harris is scheduled to begin a tour in May to promote his latest book. As for Chiles' indictment, although no specific names were mentioned, Harris realizes he's part of the group of authors Chiles is targeting his accusation against. Harris says contemplatively, "I know I write to entertain. But I get people to reading, and that's better than not reading at all. I don't know why people would let that bother them."

With a more relaxed view of life, Harris is settling in for another round of celebrity, but feels he can face it this time around, due in large part to his students and the kids he coaches on the varsity cheerleading team. Not sweating the criticism, Harris sums it up simply: "I've realized again how fortunate I am to be able to write. I've got better perspective in so many ways. Up in Fayetteville, the teacher learned some lessons, too."

Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 2/19/2006 09:07:00 AM Permanent Link     | | Home


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