U.S. author E. Lynn Harris dies at 54

E. Lynn Harris, an African-American writer who wrote about the lives of gay and bisexual black men, has died. He was 54.

Bestselling novelist wrote about lives of gay black men

E. Lynn Harris, an African-American writer who wrote about the lives of gay and bisexual black men, has died. He was 54.

His publicist, Laura Gilmore, said Harris died Thursday night after being stricken while at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.

A cause of death has yet to be determined. He was on a West Coast book tour to promote his latest novel, Basketball Jones.

Harris has had 10 books on the New York Times bestseller list, including Abide with Me (1999), Not A Day Goes By (2000), Any Way the Wind Blows (2001), A Love of My Own (2002), I Say A Little Prayer (2006) and Just Too Good To Be True (2008), all published by Doubleday.

"He was a pioneering voice within the black LGBT community but also resonated with mainstream communities, regardless of race and sexual orientation," said Herndon Davis, a gay advocate and a media diversity consultant in Los Angeles.

"Harris painted with eloquent prose and revealing accuracy the lives of African American men and the many complicated struggles they faced reconciling their sexuality and spirituality while rising above societal taboos within the black community."

Harris's novels combined humour, multiple plot lines and insight into the world of black men "on the down low" (in the closet).

"It's difficult for a lot of black men to be honest about" their sexuality, Harris said in a 2006 interview. "I'm fortunate enough to have a career where I can be who I am and I don't have to lie about it. I understand that the rest of the world isn't as accepting. I don't condone it, but I understand it."

The Atlanta-based author said I Say A Little Prayer dealt in part with his own struggles with faith, which he considered an important part of his life.

"Hopefully it will make people think about the way the church treats gay people," he said.

Harris was born in Flint, Mich., and raised in Little Rock, Ark. He had three sisters.

He was the first black yearbook editor and the first black male cheerleader at University of Arkansas. Although he graduated in journalism, he sold computers for the next 13 years.

He self-published his first novel, Invisible Life, in 1991, after failing to find a publisher. Three years later it was picked up by Anchor Books.

Harris has written for Essence, Washington Post Sunday Magazine and Sports Illustrated.

His stories have also been included in Brotherman: The Odyssey of Black Men in America, Go The Way Your Blood Beats and Gumbo: A Celebration of African American Writers .

Harris wrote a 2004 autobiography, What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted which he characterized as the most difficult thing he has ever written.

He deals in the book with the demons in his past, including depression and his own sexuality.

Harris's novels If This World Were Mine and Abide with Me were nominated for  NAACP Image Awards. If This World Were Mine won the James Baldwin Award for Literary Excellence.

With files from The Associated Press