E. Lynn Harris

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Not since James Baldwin has a black gay writer achieved the success of E. Lynn Harris. While exploring the boundaries and taboos of sexuality, Harris--who died on July 23 at 54--turned the black community and the literary world upside down, with 10 consecutive New York Times best sellers and more than 4 million copies of his work in print. Unlike Baldwin, Harris wrote for the masses, introducing readers to a fabulous world teeming with prosperous but morally conflicted black characters.

Born Everette Lynn Harris in Flint, Mich., he quit his job at IBM in his mid-30s and sold his first novel, Invisible Life, out of the trunk of his car to beauty salons and bookstores. A source of inspiration for black gay men, his once forbidden stories about their relationships caught on with female fans: for years, it was virtually impossible to ride the subway in New York City, Washington or Atlanta without coming across a black woman reading one of his novels.

At the core, though, he was a storyteller for everyone. "The lessons I have learned are not limited to race, gender or sexual orientation," Harris said upon publishing his memoir, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted. "Anyone can overcome a broken heart. Every life is a story worth telling."

Boykin is a best-selling author and CNBC contributor