Well, the "people" have spoken, and Memphis has won -- by a landslide. In a competition among U.S. cities listed on Harris' Web site (www.elynnharris.com), the writer's Memphis fans voted early and in major numbers to add the city to Harris' current book tour to promote his latest novel, I Say a Little Prayer.
"Memphis won it going away," Harris said. "The city started out ahead and never lost that momentum. I'm happy about it. I love Memphis! It's like home to me."
Harris was referring to the fact that he grew up only a couple hours away in Little Rock. Then he mentioned one particularly fond memory of the Bluff City: "I was in town for a signing years ago. It was summer, and we got one of those Memphis thunderstorms. I thought I shouldn't even show up, nobody would be there." Harris was wrong. "When I got to the store, it was packed! I couldn't believe it."
The same might be said of not one but two lucky, local book clubs -- the Alakaye Literary Society and the Sophisticated Souls -- winners in another write-in campaign on the author's Web site. Those readers will get to meet-and-greet Harris (and receive some special gift bags) after his upcoming signing at Davis-Kidd. "Unlike most crowded booksignings, these private meetings across the country are a chance for me to talk with my readers one-on-one," Harris said. "I very much want to connect with my fans."
So he does. And in the case of this latest book tour, he has.
"Where have you been? Why did we have to wait so long?" Harris quoted one of his readers, who wanted to know why it's been four years since his last novel. (Answer: Harris discovered a new passion: teaching creative writing as writer-in-residence at his alma mater, the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.) "When's the next novel?" Harris quoted another fan. (Answer: The book's written and ready for publication next summer.)
But what of the matter at hand: I Say a Little Prayer? It's vintage E. Lynn Harris: a story of contemporary, black urban professionals, with women on the make and their men on the down low. But it's also a matter of faith for Chauncey Greer, a successful businessman but a gay man faced with the prejudices inside his own church. (Harris called the sensitive subject of uncloseted African Americans and unwelcoming congregations "the 800-pound elephant in the room.") It's a novel that will no doubt please Harris' waiting fans, including those in Memphis.
And what of the local book-club members who wrote to Harris that they've read every one of his titles, starting with his first in 1991? True to form -- and his work ethic -- Harris replied, "I definitely want to meet them."
E. Lynn Harris signing I Say a Little Prayer
Thursday, July 27th, 6 p.m.
Line ticket required; available with book purchase