There were a number of statements with which I strongly disagreed in David Ehrenstein’s piece on E. Lynn Harris’ novels “Invisible Life” and “Just As I Am” (July 10)--that Harris lacks a sense of humor, that he does not movingly and convincingly deal with the subject of AIDS, that the African-American community is hostile to the gay and lesbian movement. But my overriding concern is that Ehrenstein failed to give readers of your newspaper an actual review of either book.
In his rush to put his agenda on the table, the reviewer managed to write an article that maligned African Americans (gay and straight), “serious gay/lesbian African-American literature,” book publishing, bookselling, best-sellers, Gus Van Sant’s backers, Japanese housewives. And I was still not enlightened about even the plots of Harris’ novels.
By the end of the review, I felt I was watching news tape of an infuriated U.S. auto worker with a sledge hammer in his hand standing over the shattered body of a Toyota.
And where do Harris’ fine, honest, perceptive novels about contemporary African-American people struggling with human problems fall in all this tirade? Unfortunately for readers of your section, the answer is: Right through the cracks.
TINA MCELROY ANSA, ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GA.
As Vice President and Publisher of Anchor Books, I was saddened to read David Ehrenstein’s review of E. Lynn Harris’ novels, since he very clearly disliked them. Response to fiction is quite subjective, and Mr. Ehrenstein is entitled to his opinion.
Since, however, so many of his negative comments were about the publication of the books rather than the books themselves, I thought it appropriate to write a response.
I was intrigued by his interpretation of the jacket of “Just As I Am,” which shows two men embracing with a woman standing alone off to the side. Our intention was twofold: 1) to make it clear that the novel was about love between two black men, and 2) to let Mr. Harris’ female audience (who were big supporters of “Invisible Life”) know that there was a woman character in this book. What’s wrong with straight women being interested in gay men’s lives? How many other current novels by gay men--black or white--feature two men so clearly romantically involved? I thought it was rather bold.
Why can’t book buyers have the option of reading Randall Kenan, Audre Lorde and E. Lynn Harris? There are all kinds of readers so there should be a full spectrum of literary and commercial books for them to read. And, by the way, when was Mr. Ehrenstein last in a major chain bookstore? I think a quick peek into any Borders (Walden) or Barnes & Noble superstore would show that the works of Essex Hemphill, Audre Lorde, Melvin Dixon, June Jordan and a host of other gay and lesbian African-American authors are readily available.
Finally, it is simply not true that “serious gay/lesbian African-American literature is part of the ghetto . . . left to specialty and university presses.” I hardly think the W. W. Norton (Audre Lorde), Harcourt Brace (Randall Kenan), NAL/Plume (Melvin Dixon) or Pantheon (June Jordan) could be classified as small presses.
MARTHA K. LEVIN, ANCHOR BOOKS, NEW YORK, N.Y.