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  • Written by E. Lynn Harris
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  • Written by E. Lynn Harris
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Bestselling author E. Lynn Harris is back with another sexy, shocking, and immensely satisfying novel that explores some of today’s toughest and most timely issues.
Chauncey Greer is the owner of Cute Boy Card Company, a thriving company in Atlanta. As a teenager, he was a member of a popular boy band, but left in disgrace when word got out that he and his band mate D were more than good friends. Chauncey is a free spirit, on the brink of forty with a body admired by both men and women. Not into being categorized, Chauncey’s been known to hook up with men and women, but now in the age of the “down low,” he’s found that women ask too many questions, so he’s just focusing on the fellas.
After one too many bad dates, Chauncey finds himself in church where the minister’s message inspires him to follow his dream of a singing career once again. Although he’s lost touch with D, as he starts writing songs his thoughts inevitably turn to his former lover. Chauncey’s powerful performance at the church earns him a standing ovation and an invitation to participate in an upcoming revival. But Chauncey soon discovers that an ambitious fundamentalist preacher plans to use the revival to speak out against gays and gay marriage. Feeling angry and betrayed, Chauncey and other gay members of the church decide to take a stand against the church’s homophobia by staging a “Day of Absence” when all of the gay members and their friends and family stay home. Everything is going as planned …until D appears on the scene and Chauncey has to confront his past and make some hard decisions about his future. I SAY A LITTLE PRAYER is filled with the delicious plot twists, humor, compassion, and up-to-the-minute controversy fans expect from their beloved “E. Lynn.” Harris has returned with another gem of a novel that will rocket to the top of bestseller lists nationwide.

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Oh, hell naw were the only three words that came to mind, and I found myself saying them out loud.

“Oh, hell naw,” I said.

“Hold up,” Jayshawn whispered as he held his finger to his lips.

“Oh, hell naw,” I repeated.

He got up from the bed with his cell phone glued to his ear and walked into my bathroom. I could hear him say­ing, “I’m sorry, babygirl, I don’t like it when you get upset like this. Give me five minutes and I’ll call you back.”

I sat up in my king-size sleigh bed and wondered how I got myself into situations like this. I had just enjoyed a quiet evening with great Chinese takeout from my favorite restaurant, P. F. Chang’s, a bottle of Merlot, a blunt, and ended the evening with head-banging sex. I’d fallen asleep wrapped up with a handsome redbone PTB (pretty tall brother) and was having sweet dreams until they were inter­rupted by the sound of his cell phone.

I ignored the first call, and didn’t mind when Jayshawn jumped out of bed and took the call in the adjacent bath­room. But then it happened again, and again. Every time I tried to go back to sleep, that fucking cell phone, playing rap music like we were in a club, woke me up. I’d had enough of this shit. I was even willing to give up the promised wake-up sex session with Jayshawn. It served me right for dealing with another so-called DL brother like Jayshawn. That nigga just wasn’t in the closet, he was the closet–all three walls and the double-lock door, too. But what choice did I have, since I didn’t date sissies or men who defined themselves strictly by their sexuality.

“I’m sorry, Chaunce,” Jayshawn said as he walked back into the bedroom, completely nude with a semi-erect penis swinging from side to side.

“What’s going on?” I demanded. It was going to take more than a fat dick to calm me down.

“My girl, you know she be bugging,” he said.

“About what?”

“Thinks I am up here cheating with another girl,” he said as he sat at the edge of the bed and turned toward me as if he was trying to gauge my anger.

“I thought you told her you were working.”
“I did, but you know bitches–they always think they know something. Trying to catch a nigga in some shit,” he said. “I think I need to catch the first flight out. I think there’s one at seven A.M.”

I looked at the digital clock on my DVD player and the time flashed 4:12 A.M. I turned back to Jayshawn and was getting ready to tell him that he needed to catch a taxi because I was not about to get out of my bed at this hour and take his tired ass to the airport, when the damn cell phone rang again!

“Don’t answer that,” I demanded, this time not trying to keep the anger out of my voice.

“I got to, Chauncey,” he said. “I’ll be downstairs trying to get her to chill.”

“Listen, Jayshawn, you need to leave. I don’t care where you go, but you need to get your ass up outta here. I’m going to church in a few hours, and I need some sleep.” I tossed the covers to the floor and got up to take a leak, shaking my head in disgust.

While I was in the bathroom, I thought about all the conversations and e-mails that had led to this evening. Sev­eral years ago, I met Jayshawn as I was walking through the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C. I was there on a business trip and Jayshawn was having a drink in the bar. We gave each other the look, and before you could say, “Brothers gonna work it out,” we had exchanged business cards. A couple of days later, I got an e-mail from Jayshawn with a nude picture attached. From that moment, it was on. We agreed to drive and meet each other halfway, which meant I had to drive from Atlanta to Raleigh, North Carolina.

I liked Jayshawn Ward because he was handsome, smart, and like me he wasn’t a card-carrying member of the gay community. He was honest, telling me that he was the father of a six-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl. Jayshawn told me he was no longer involved with his baby’s mama but had lady friends he dated occasionally. Neither one of us was looking for a relationship, or as I call it, a relation-shit; we both just wanted some regular hookup sex with another cool brother.

Everything was fine for about two years. We would get together every two months, and the sex was off the chain. Jayshawn knew how to use every part of his six-foot-five-inch frame–he was a former college basketball player who still knew how to dunk.

Last year Jayshawn called me and told me he’d met a special young lady, and he wanted to pursue a relationship with her. He told me we had to end our sessions. I don’t know why, even though it was just sex, I was a little hurt. But then I thought about it and realized that my sex was so good, he’d be back. It might be a couple of months or even a year or two, but they always come back.

I was right.

Right after Memorial Day, after months of noncommu­nication, I got an e-mail from Jayshawn supposedly just checking on me. I started not to respond to his simple “Sup” message, but I did. His next e-mail said, “I been missin’ my nigga and I got a few new things I need to show you.”

I started to make him wait, but since I hadn’t found a replacement for him, my plans to make him beg went out the window just like dirty dishwater. Now, only three weeks later, he and his loud-ass cell phone had to go.

I stomped back into my bedroom and saw Jayshawn in baggy jeans, a black wife-beater T-shirt, and a white do-rag on his head, stuffing a pair of boxers into the small black bag he’d brought. He grabbed his blue shirt the color of jeans, put it on, and began to button it.

“I’m real sorry ’bout this, fam, but I need to get on. I can’t believe this bitch is trippin’ like this. But she’s ask­ing me all kinds of questions, like what kind of work I’m doing and what hotel I’m staying at. Why she can’t call me at the hotel and shit.”

I didn’t respond because I didn’t want to curse his ass out, but this girl was smarter than the average sister who dealt with down-low bisexual brothers. And if he was so in love with her, why did he keep referring to her as a bitch? Didn’t she have a name? But I knew this was just Jayshawn’s way of hanging on to the street-boy credibility that he so cherished. Every time we’d finish banging, he always had that guilty I’m not gonna do this no more look.

“Are you gonna run me to the airport?” he asked.

“No,” I said without looking in his direction or missing a beat. I picked up the covers from the floor and climbed back into bed.

“How am I going to get there?” he asked, dumbfounded.

“You can take MARTA–the station is a couple blocks away–or you can use your loud-ass cell phone and call a cab. I’m done. See ya.” I pulled the covers over my head, welcomed the darkness, and wished someone would create a “no more dumb mofo” vaccine. And quickly, before some­one got hurt.

A few minutes later, I heard my front door slam shut.

***

If someone asked me who Chauncey Greer was, and I wanted to be really honest, what would I say? I’d start by telling them that due to a previous, painful experience my personal theme song is “Love Don’t Love Nobody. Believe That Shit!” So I’m not with the hardhead dude love/rela-tionship program.


I would tell them that I’m a reformed heartbreaker try­ing to do the right thing when it comes to dealing with other people. There was a time in my twenties when I broke a lot of hearts and didn’t give a damn about how the per­son felt when I told them to hit the road or when I stopped returning their phone calls. This one dude, Greg, claimed he was so in love with me that he was going to kill himself if I left him. At that time in my life I was so cold-blooded, I slammed the door in his face and silently waited for a gun­shot or broken window. I ignored him when I saw him a year later with another guy I’d slept with. I started to warn the other brotha that he was dealing with a psycho but felt they deserved one another–at that point in my life I would just go along to get along.

I’m a good-looking brotha (not bragging, just a simple fact) and I’ve had more than my share of equally good-looking brothers and maybe a half-dozen great-looking women. I have my weaknesses like any other man. I guess you could say I’m a LSC (light skin chaser). I prefer my men (and women) to be on the yellow side. Not the light bright and damn near white yellow, but that real nice golden brown. Good hair and light eyes doesn’t hurt. I’m not prejudiced or anything–I have mad respect for my darker-skinned brothers and sisters, since I’m chocolate myself–but my tastes tend to lighter.

I’m not confused about my sexuality. I’m basically bi with a gay leaning. You could say that my sexual tastes are similar to my love for gumbo. You feel what I’m saying? Sometimes I like a little sausage, other times a bit of shrimp. And every now and then, I get a taste for fish. But today, with so many people talking about down-low this and down-low that, it’s too much of a hassle dating women, because they ask too many damn questions. I still find myself attracted to women, but I don’t like to lie. I can save that sin for something else–like cussing out Jayshawn. The only thing brothas are interested in is your HIV status (like a brother gonna tell the truth) and how much you’re pack­ing. Which also adds to my reputation when word got out that my stuff could extend a couple zip codes. And sisters, even though they don’t want to admit it, like that shit, too. Size does matter–to both sexes.

Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about my own mor­tality, and since I already got a point against me for the sleeping-with-dudes thing, I’ve been trying very hard to be nicer and not lead on women and fat ugly brothas unless they’re exceptional. If statistics are right about the life span of a black man, then I’m approaching the halfway point. Maybe God won’t hold my having been a whorish asshole the early part of my life against me. Now, when I meet somebody I want to hook up with on a sex tip, I tell them right up front that I will only go out (or, let’s be honest, fuck) with them up to three times. When they ask me if I’m kidding, I look them dead in the eye and say when a person tells you who they are, believe them. It’s the one thing I got from watching Oprah every now and then.

Still, these days I treat people the way I want to be treated, which means being honest and saying what’s what. Some people seem to appreciate that, while others think they can change me. But I know me, and I ain’t about to change for anyone. Been there, done that, got the heart­break.
For me, love came calling the first time during the summer of 1982. My hometown–Greenwood, Mississippi–was as humid and sweaty as it always was when the extremely good-looking young outsider moved to town. I was strolling near an old dusty pink brick building known as Greenwood Junior High after a day of summer-school algebra. I hadn’t flunked the tough math course, but I’d made a D and my parents made me attend summer school “voluntarily,” forcing me to give up my annual trip to Chicago and my chance to play baseball. That made me mad, because I was just getting good at hitting the ball out of the park.

I looked toward the basketball court, where six young men ran up and down the court so fast, I wished I had the coordina­tion and height to play with them. I heard the rhythmic sound of the basketball hitting the pavement. Then the clinging of the metal nets as the basketball swooshed through. I closed my eyes and imagined that I was in the middle of Harlem, witnessing a game of New York street ball like I had seen on television. But when I opened my eyes, that’s when I saw him. He was wear­ing a nondescript white T-shirt and baggy shorts. He looked like a midget among a forest of tall trees. I found myself gazing at only him, and when he looked in my direction, an aggressively bright sun stung his golden brown face. His eyes sparkled like a cold glass of ginger ale. From a distance his body looked com­pact, without an ounce of fat.

One of his teammates shouted for him to shoot, and the ball flew from his hand and arched high in the air before hitting noth­ing but net.

I heard a guy say, “I guess you can play, D. I heard they can shoot some hoops down in Georgia.”

Another echoed, “Your shot is so sweet, from now on we gonna call you Sweet D.”

After a few more laps up and down the court, Sweet D stopped his stride and looked at me. He smiled as he twirled the burnt-orange ball on the tip of his finger, and I knew that some­how he would become an important part of my life. The way his eyes seemed to pierce through me cemented my feelings.

That summer I made a B in algebra. I prepared myself for geometry and high school, and my sexual confusion began tak­ing shape.



From the Hardcover edition.
E. Lynn Harris

About E. Lynn Harris

E. Lynn Harris - I Say A Little Prayer

Photo © Matthew Jordan Smith

E. Lynn Harris was a ten-time New York Times bestselling author. His work included the memoir What Becomes of the Brokenhearted and the novels, A Love of My Own, Just as I Am, Any Way the Wind Blows (all three of which were named Novel of the Year by the Blackboard African American Bestsellers), I Say a Little Prayer, If This World Were Mine (which won the James Baldwin Award for Literary Excellence), the classic Invisible Life, Just Too Good to Be True, and Basketball Jones. He passed away at the age of 54 in 2009.
Praise

Praise

“Vintage Harris...A story filled with sex, humor and plenty of plot twists.”—Ebony“From naked cocktail parties to religious conundrums, the “Godfather of the Down Low” gives you just the right amount of raunchiness and redemption in his latest.” —Upscale “Heartfelt.” —Essence“Harris’s addictive latest...capture[s] both the erotic heat and spiritual fervor of Chauncey’s world....[A] moving and honest exploration of sex, sin, and redemption.” —Kirkus“What’s got audiences hooked? Harris’s unique spin on the ever-fascinating topics of identity, class, intimacy, sexuality, and friendship.” —Vibe“Thank God for E. Lynn Harris.” —Philadelphia Inquirer“The man who helped put the down low on the cultural map returns with another sexy page-turner.” —Out
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

“Vintage Harris. . . . A story filled with sex, humor and plenty of plot twists.”
Ebony

The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of I Say a Little Prayer, an explosive look at the fraught relationship between black churches and the gay community by bestselling author E. Lynn Harris.

About the Guide

As a young man, Chauncey Greer sang with a boy band that was headed for superstardom, until a lover’s betrayal tore the group apart. Now thirty-eight, he’s the owner of a successful greeting card company in Atlanta, comfortable with his sexuality–“basically bi with a gay leaning” [p.10]–and has found a spiritual home at Abundant Joy Baptist Church, where no one cares about his income, what kind of car he drives, and, most important, who he sleeps with. An inspiring sermon at Abundant Joy reawakens Chauncey’s dream of pursuing a singing career, and after his soul-stirring debut performance at a Sunday service, the minister invites Chauncey to participate in an upcoming revivalist meeting led by Bishop Upchurch, one of the most prominent fundamentalist preachers in the country.

Upchurch and his ambitious wife are using their Denver megachurch as a launching pad for a run for the United States Senate, with a campaign driven by rabid anti-gay propaganda. When the gay members of Abundant Joy organize a “Day of Absence” to protest Upchurch’s appearance, Chauncey is caught between his desire to sing and his deep-seated beliefs in what God wants from him. The situation becomes even more complicated when Chauncey realizes just who Bishop Upchurch is–and how far his political cronies are willing to go to win a senate seat.

About the Author

E. Lynn Harris is the author of the memoir What Becomes of the Brokenhearted and eight novels, including A Love of My Own, Just As I Am, and Any Way the Wind Blows, all of which were named Novel of the Year by Blackboard Bestsellers, and If This World Were Mine, winner of the James Baldwin Award for Literary Excellence. He is currently writer-in-residence and visiting professor at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, and divides his time between Atlanta, Georgia, and Fayetteville.

Discussion Guides

1. The story of Chauncey’s past is interspersed with the main narrative. What does Harris achieve by telling the two stories simultaneously? In what ways do the past and the present play out against one another as the plot unfolds?

2. Chauncey calls himself “a reformed heartbreaker trying to do the right thing when it comes to dealing with other people” [p. 9]. Does “doing the right thing” require more than just “being honest and saying what’s what” [p. 11] with the men he briefly hooks up with? Are there consequences–to himself, as well as to his partners–that he doesn’t recognize or refuses to acknowledge? Is Chauncey’s casual approach to dating and sex widespread among men today, both straight and gay? Is the pattern common among women as well?

3. How has the growth of mega churches changed the practice of religion in contemporary America? Have these large, and usually wealthy, organizations abandoned the essential role of a church in the community? Is it possible to argue that a mega church, through its very size and marketing efforts, can attract Christians looking for a place to renew or rediscover their spirituality?

4. What was your reaction to the private party Chauncey attends [pp. 49—57]? Are the graphic descriptions of the various sexual encounters at the sex club, as well as other explicit scenes in the novel, integral to portraying Chauncey and his lifestyle in an accurate, realistic way?

5. Discuss Chauncey’s musings on sin [p. 58]. Do they express your own religious beliefs or moral principles? What specific values influence your judgments of your own and other people’s behavior? Is there an absolute moral code that applies to everyone or do individuals, religious authorities, or community standards define right and wrong?

6. Chauncey gives an important job to a new printer because he wants to “give a small black business a chance” [p. 66]. Do successful black businessmen have a duty to support other businesses within the black community? Is making a business decision on the basis of race (or gender or sexual preference) a form of discrimination?

7. Reverend Davis delivers a powerful sermon encouraging his followers to vote [p. 159]. Does the discussion of political or civic matters have a place in the church? Are there issues that religious leaders should not address? Have you experienced or read about incidents in which a minister, priest, or rabbi has crossed the line separating church and state? Is the political establishment guilty of bringing religious considerations into government policies and practices? Do you agree, for example, with Vincent’s claim that President Bush’s faith-based initiatives “get . . . ministers to sing his tune” [p. 221]?

8. Reverend Davis is aware of Damien and Grayson Upchurch’s ultraconservative views, yet he is eager to have him come to Abundant Joy. Are his explanations to Chauncey [pp. 178, 230—32] satisfactory? What are the ramifications, both good and bad, of giving Damien a forum to express his views?

9. Does the conversation between Chauncey and Damien [pp. 251—53] cast a different light on their past relationship? Do you think that Damien is sincere in his belief that what they were doing was wrong? What role did his fear of exposure play in his decision to betray Chauncey? How does Harris make their reconciliation believable?

10. I Say a Little Prayer features women only in secondary roles. Are Celia, Ms. Gladys, and Grayson Upchurch fully developed characters? Do their attitudes, problems, and achievements offer insights into lives of women in the African-American community? To what extent is Grayson Upchurch representative of a growing conservative trend in African-American politics?

11. Harris refers to several real people in the novel and also includes “cameo” appearances by characters from his other books. What does this add to your experience as a reader?  

12. The question of accepting gays and lesbians has caused disruption in many churches. Does Harris treat the subject in a balanced and honest way? Does he offer fresh insights into the gay and lesbian point of view? Does his depiction of religious leaders who reject gays and lesbians in their churches adequately explore their reasons and motivations?

13. Is the black community is more homophobic than society-at-large? What historical, social, and cultural forces might explain this?

14. From the fight for women’s suffrage to the civil rights movement, American society has been changed through citizen-led campaigns for equal rights. Is the gay-rights movement comparable to past struggle for equality?

15. The conflict at the heart of I Say A Little Prayer may remind you of a recent real-life scandal. The Reverend Ted Haggard, the former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, who frequently spoke out against gay rights and same-sex unions, was “outed” by a man who had a sexual relationship with him. Is exposing the hypocrisy of public figures a moral obligation we all share? Are there situations in which such exposure causes more harm than good?

16. I Say a Little Prayer carries a strong political message. Do you think exploring political themes enhances or undermines the power of Harris’s fiction?

Suggested Readings

James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room; Stephen L. Carter, The Emperor of Ocean Park; Rasheed Clark, Stories I Wouldn’t Tell Nobody But God; Eric Jerome Dickey, Chasing Destiny; James Earl Hardy, A House is Not a Home; Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty; Victoria Christopher Murray, A Sin and a Shame; April Sinclair, Coffee Will Make You Black; Carl Weber, The Preacher’s Son; Edmund White, The Beautiful Room is Empty

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