HBO recently optioned the rights to E. Lynn Harris’ classics of gay literature Invisible Life, Just As I Am, and Abide With Me. The series follows a young Black man’s journey as he comes to terms with his homosexuality.
E. Lynn Harris, a Black man born to a low-income household in Little Rock, Arkansas, struggled throughout his young life coming to terms with this sexuality. For over a decade, Harris held office jobs working for computer companies like Hewlett Packard and AT&T. Eventually he quit his job to dedicate himself full-time to writing his first book, the semi-autobiographical, Invisible Life.
Harris says he didn’t know he wanted to be a writer until his friends started dying from AIDS. He wrote letters to sick friends, reminiscing about the good times they had together. One dying friend asked him to make a promise that would forever alter the course of his life. The man’s dying wish was that Harris would use his gift for writing to tell their story. A year and a half later, Harris quit his job to begin writing Invisible Life.
The DIY Origins of ‘Invisible Life’
After pitching the manuscript to every publisher he could find, and being rejected outright, Harris decided to self-publish. This was back in the early ‘90s, mind you, in the dark ages of self-publishing. Harris hustled Invisible Life around Atlanta beauty shops, sororities, conventions, and Black expos. His hit-the-streets marketing strategy worked to build a DIY fan base from the ground up.
The book eventually gained so much momentum by word-of-mouth that Harris caught the attention of a publishing giant. An Atlanta sales rep for Knopf Doubleday heard about Harris peddling his novel out of the trunk of his car and brought the book to the attention of an editor at Doubleday, who signed him. Harris’ unlikely rise to literary stardom became a publishing industry legend and deserves a TV series of its own.
A Pioneering Voice for the LGTBQ Community
The deal with Doubleday brought Harris’ story into the mainstream, the first of its kind to do so. Never before had there been a gay African American love story from a major publisher. Invisible Life initially garnered some criticism from the LGBTQ community for being too sympathetic to closeted characters. Harris himself was a closeted bisexual until the book became widely published by Doubleday.
In a 2000 interview with In The Life TV Harris said,
“My characters are like individuals within our community. Each person needs to make a decision on how they want to lead their lives. If some people choose to live their life in the closet or choose to not identify themselves as gay or bi-sexual, I’m glad we live in a country where they’re able to make that decision.”
The Invisible Life series helped a widespread audience understand the complexities of homosexuality and bi-sexuality at a time when LGBTQ subjects were not covered in the mainstream. Now, over 30 years after Harris started selling DIY copies of the novel out of his trunk, the Invisible Life series is being adapted for TV at HBO.
The HBO Adaptation of Invisible Life
HBO acquired the rights to the series via E. Lynn Harris’ brand curator, Proteus Spann. Before Harris’ death in 2009, Spann purchased Harris’ catalog of 16 books published between 1991 and 2010.
Proteus Spann is executive producing via his production company Proteus E2 Productions alongside playwright Harrison David Rivers. Tracey Edmonds, producer of Deion’s Family Playbook for OWN and End of the Road for Netflix is also attached to the project.
Harrison David Rivers will write the screenplay adaptation of Harris’ novels.
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