When he lived in Dallas, E. Lynn Harris hooked up with pro athletes. The empty life as closeted jock’s boytoy inspired his new novel
What a historic year for America — especially its black citizens. And after finishing E. Lynn Harris’ newest novel, "Basketball Jones" (Random House, $22.95), it’s obvious that so much has already changed.
Since 1992, Harris has penned 11 novels and sold more than 3 million volumes of work. He’s the go-to author when it comes to capturing same-sex love in African-America.
"Basketball Jones" is about Aldridge James, the kept boy of MBA player Dray Jones. In one brief exchange at a party, someone asks Aldridge about Obama’s chances at becoming president. And Aldridge says, "no chance" — that some white man would be back in the White House.
Harris obviously wrote the passage before Hillary Clinton conceded.
Two days after the inauguration, Dallas Voice spoke with Harris who was at his home in Atlanta.
"So you noticed ‘There’s no way we’re gonna get a black president’ reference?" Harris laughs. "I was just writing what a lot of African-Americans were thinking at that time. And I write in real time. The book I’m writing now will have a lot of references to the inauguration. For example, at the inauguration I remember seeing Obama get out of the car. I was like, ‘Man, get back in that car!’ I was so scared for his safety. And after talking to my friends, they were scared of the same thing."
But the inauguration also made him weep.
"I did cry. I called my mom and told her that I was trying to keep the tears at bay. She said, ‘It’s okay to let two or three escape every now and then.’ Then it just hit me —as Obama was in the tunnel right before making the speech," Harris remembers.
Before his mega-success in the fiction trade, Harris sold IBM computers in Dallas.
"I lived in The Village on Lovers Lane, and I worked right across the street from The Mansion Hotel," he remembers.
IBM was Harris’ first job, after graduating from the University of Arkansas.
"I was IBM’s first and only black salesman. I graduated from college at 20, so I was also one of their youngest," he says.
Most of his Dallas memories are painted with frustration and unhappiness.
"I was having problems with customers. And I wanted to attribute it to racism. But my boss said it was probably because I so young, and that I was trying to get companies to spend millions of dollars. But they weren’t going to invest in a 20 year old," Harris remembers.
However, Harris made a good living. In Dallas, he drove a BMW and shopped at Neiman Marcus, NorthPark, "and The Galleria had just opened," he remembers.
Did he fall in love in Dallas?
"I fell in lust. In Dallas, I had a couple of experiences with athletes. But those all petered out because they were closeted," he says.
"Yes," Harris says.
"Yeah," he says.
"I’m not going to say," Harris says. "Dallas was the first time I ever went to a gay bar. And was the first time I went to a straight bar and got picked up by a man — I usually had more luck in straight bars than gay bars."
It’s easy to see that his time Dallas heavily influenced "Basketball Jones." A devoted kept-boy like Aldridge enjoys shopping and first-class travel way too much.
"But I’m nothing like Aldridge. I wouldn’t be in a relationship where somebody else had control," Harris says.
Harris’s inspiration was oh-so juicier.
"Three or four years ago, I was approached by a representative of an NBA player, who was ready to come out because he was getting blackmailed by a family member. He wanted to talk to me beforehand," Harris says. "He never did come out. And I never did find out who it was. I’m not talking about John Amaechi [the former Utah Jazz center who came out in 2007] because John and I talk.
"If I had met the person and talked to him, I would have never written this book. It was only after it didn’t’ happen that I got my creative juices flowing," Harris says.
What if Aldridge and Drew could make their relationship "legit" and get married?
"They probably wouldn’t have," Harris says.
But what if the possibility was always there — even before their history. As a black gay man, does it break Harris’ heart to hear Obama say he’s against full marriage rights for same-sex couples?
"I think it’s a crock — for real. But marriage is simply a piece of paper. I don’t need the government to tell me who I can love," Harris says.
"Most politicians would say the same thing as Obama. Do most of them feel that way? I doubt it."
Recently, Harris came out again — as a gay parent. He has a son who’s a senior at the University of Arkansas. He thinks his son’s generation will see full equal marriage rights for gays.
"It’s not out of the realm of possibility for them. When they’re probably my age, they’ll be the leaders. Compared to people Obama’s age, [gay marriage] won’t be such a big deal.
"To think that I would see a black president in my lifetime was not something that I ever dreamed about. I remember when Vanessa Williams won Miss America. I couldn’t believe it was happening in my lifetime. There will be other things that will happen in my lifetime that I’m not expecting. [Gay marriage] may not happen in my lifetime. Maybe in my son’s lifetime."
HARRIS IN DALLAS
On Thursday, E. Lynn Harris reads, discusses and signs copies of "Basketball Jones" at Barnes & Noble, 7700 West Northwest Hwy.
Feb. 5 at 7 p.m.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 30, 2009.