The first cheerleader

As a part of its series in celebration of Black History Month, the Razorback Athletic Department is saluting Trailblazers from the African-American community who have attended the University of Arkansas. Several of the honorees in our series were also selected as Silas Hunt Legacy Award recipients recently.

Mr. E. Lynn Harris was born in Flint, Mich., and raised, along with three sisters, in Little Rock. An honors journalism graduate from the University of Arkansas, Harris holds the distinction of being the university’s first black yearbook editor, the first black male Razorback cheerleader, and the president of his fraternity.Harris sold computers for IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and AT&T for 13 years. He finally quit his sales job to write his first novel, “Invisible Life,” and, failing to find a publisher, he published it himself in 1991. His work was offered at black-owned bookstores, beauty salons, and book clubs before he was “discovered” by Anchor Books. Anchor published “Invisible Life” as a trade paperback in 1994, launching his career as an author.His last six novels were New York Times bestsellers as was his memoir, “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.” His books have also appeared on the bestseller lists of other national publications such as the Washington Post and Publishers Weekly. Currently, there are more than three million copies of Harris’s novels in print. Five of his novels and his memoir have been optioned for film.Harris has won numerous accolades for his work including Blackboard’s Novel of the Year prizes, making Harris the first author to receive back-to-back honors and to receive the prize a record three times. He has received multiple nominations for an NAACP Image Award and won the James Baldwin Award for Literary Excellence. He won a Lambda Literary Bridgebuilder Award for his memoir in 2003.In 1999, the University of Arkansas honored Harris with a Citation of Distinguished Alumni for outstanding professional achievement, and in October 2000, he was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame. He has also been named to Ebony’s “Most Intriguing Blacks” list, Out Magazine’s “Out 100” list, New York Magazine’s “Gay Power 101” list, and Savoy’s “100 Leaders and Heroes in Black America” list. Harris is a member of the board of directors of the Hurston/Wright Foundation and the Evidence Dance Company.A popular college lecturer, Harris has spoken at dozens of universities including the University of Arkansas, Harvard University, Hampton University, Spelman College, Princeton University, and Stanford University. Harris is a visiting professor in the English department at the University of Arkansas.An avid University of Arkansas Razorbacks fan, Harris divided his time between Atlanta, Ga., Houston, Texas, and Fayetteville. Harris passed away July 23, 2009.

The University of Arkansas’ Office of University Relations provided the content of today’s salute. For more information on the Silas Hunt Legacy Award Event, please jump here.