Remembering the Bell Hooks, Iconic Feminist Author, After Death at 69
Mourning bell hooks – who passed away Dec. 15, 2021 at the age of 69 after giving us four decades of pioneering feminist studies – means celebrating everything she taught us about what it means to be a black woman in love with her himself and of the world, and with the life of the spirit. With her passing, there will be one less pair of hands that will support black women – all women – as inherently precious. For decades, she has helped me on my journey to become myself; her legacy will live on in my bones, and in the minds and hearts of all she has awakened and inspired.
Born Gloria Jean Watkins in Hopkinsville, Ky., In 1952, Hooks honored her matrilineal lineage by taking her maternal great-grandmother’s name as a pen name in a lowercase version to emphasize “the substance of the books, not who I am. “. She has influenced several well-known luminaries and writers to adopt the same practice. Let us entrust ourselves to the work of our hands and pay homage to our elders instead of bowing to tradition and capitalizing on ourselves.
Perhaps honoring his elders and ancestors played a role in allowing him to speak and write his fame in life, to hear his family tell about it. Like most towns in the South, Hopkinsville, Ky., Was stratified by race and class; Hooks’ father was a janitor and his mother a maid. âGloria learned to read and write at an early age and even proclaimed that she would be famous someday,â her family said in a statement. âGrowing up, the girls shared an upstairs bedroom and she always left the light on until late at night. Every night we tried to sleep, but the sounds of her handwriting or the turning page made us scream at mum to turn off the light.
Her family went on to say that Gloria always had at least 10 serious books that she was reading simultaneously, be it Shakespeare, Little woman, or other classics, which quenched her “great thirst for knowledge, which she incorporated into her life’s work”. Against the backdrop of great struggles for civil rights, she graduated from a newly integrated high school. Her keen intellect and writing skills were evident early on, and she majored in English Literature at Stanford University, then earned her MA at the University of Wisconsin and her PhD at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where she wrote her thesis on Toni Morrison.
She flourished in the classroom, and her criticism and charisma quickly gained an audience both in and beyond academic circles. I first met her on one of my many trips to my local New York library when I was 13 and was immediately impressed. Hooks wrote with confident wisdom and ease on subjects I had never read from a black woman’s perspective; she looked so much like me, even though she was from another part of the country and another generation. We were soul mates.
âWhat gives me the greatest joy in the work of bell hooks,â said Rachel Kahan, William Morrow editor in chief of hooks to Oprah Daily, âis that it is being embraced with enthusiasm by so many new readers. right now in our current cultural moment, not just in the United States but all over the world. All about love hit the New York Times bestseller list last year for the very first time, two decades after it was first published, Bell and I shared an incredibly emotional moment over the phone, laughing – almost dizzying. We were both delighted to see that the fruits of his labor multiplied from generation to generation. ”
My dog-eared copy of Sisters of the Yam: black women and self-recovery was the front door to reprogram me. The micro-aggressions, confusing pauses and rudeness inflicted on me because of my dark skin tone and natural hair – the bell hooks helped me understand that these were the manifestations of erections social issues that she questioned, and not out of my imagination. Her writings on writing, how she harnessed the role of self-esteem and self-care: all of these things and more marked her as a visionary. Radical, yes, for its positions on racism, patriarchy and capitalism. Radical, too, to take care of the hearts of black women. For saying that we are not only our job, but that we deserve, as much as anyone else, our own affection and tenderness. The world would not give it to us, not without a fight.
And she fought, on the page and off. She wrote about being the skinny little girl named in her family of seven siblings in an essay on the importance of critical affirmation; on writing and living as a black feminist in a world hostile to two identities. In a discussion about the film Precious in an essay entitled “A pornography of violence” in his book Write beyond race, she wrote: âTelling a personal story in itself is not deep; that’s what we do with this story.
What she did with her story was that she saw, studied, and recorded the spaces and slights that existed for every black writer, feminist, scholar, and intellectual. She made a map for us to study on our own, and made room for our authenticity, for our most radical and often unpopular selves. She didn’t give in.
In this way, the bell hooks taught me what Toni Morrison called the source of self-esteem. I first read her in seventh grade, one of the first black writers I noticed who wrote prolifically, both as a sole author of over 40 volumes but also in collaboration with other black scholars and intellectuals who were praised at the time, such as Cornel West. His words spoke directly to me, to me.
âHealing comes through witnessing, bringing together whatever is available to you and being reconciled,â Hooks wrote of the words a student on the road to recovery shared with her. The way she expressed her intentions when posting Yam sisters could well defend his broader goals as a writer and intellectual: âIt’s a book on reconciliation. It’s meant to serve as a map, charting a journey that can take us back to that dark, deep place within us, where we were first known and loved, where the arms that held us hold us still.
Bell’s time has come to play in the dark, to rest well in this rich and deep place that she has undermined for all of us for so long, but I thank her for being a light I will always reach towards.
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