I'm never sure where to start when talking about bell hooks so I'll begin with the moment I fell in love with her. It was college and I didn't really experience college in a traditional way. Mallory and I lived in the married student housing section of campus where plenty of professors also lived, some of them visiting professors from other countries. Every party I went to I was the youngest person there. No keggers or beer stands for me. One of my professors made hummus (the first I'd ever tasted) and brought it to class for all the students. I'll never forget these three things about Dr. Z:
One, during the deconstruction of a piece of text, I made a comment about how one part of the book we were reading had a car accident in it and that it reminded me of another part of the book when a character is giving birth. It was the use of the term "crowning" that seemed symbolic to me and when I shared that with her (and the rest of the class) she told me something no other teacher or professor had ever said before. She said I was brilliant. That stayed with me for years.
Two, she invited me to a party (the only student who was there) where I met Roxane Gay. It was literary girlcrushing of the first order and I'm not sure my open-mouthed awe was ever more awkward. I still follow Roxane Gay as a writer anywhere she goes. She is still a professor at my alma mater.
Finally, she handed me my first book by bell hooks.
It was love and it was instant and it was the first of many books by bell hooks that I felt sorrow while reading it because I wished I had written it. Thereafter, when I quoted a book in class it was nearly always the words of bell hooks.
The book was Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. I was in the midst of embarking on a teaching degree after earning my English degree and I didn't want to go through the traditional program that they offered. That year, my university decided to offer an alternative to it that was designed for non-traditional college students. Once again, I was the youngest in the bunch. It was a group filled with people who would embark on teaching careers as their second career or older students who had returned to their studies.
And it shaped everything I would come to believe about education both historically and pedagogically.
How could I not love bell hooks when she did all that for me?
"I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else's whim or to someone else's ignorance."
Born Gloria Jean Watkins in 1952, bell took her name from her great-grandmother and became an author an activist and a feminist. Three things I desperately wished to be as a 19 year old. She addresses race, class, gender, class domination, and capitalism.
bell doesn't just write books about those things, though. She writes about love. My top 3 books by bell hooks are All About Love: New Visions, Feminism is for Everybody, and Bone Black: memories of girlhood. It wasn't until grad school that I came across All About Love, but it was assigned by a professor who didn't want any of us going into administration until we read that book. It shouldn't have surprised me, but it did, to know this fiery writer could take on the tough stuff like racism and sexism and then completely turn around and write about love and redemption.
In November, The New School hosted a discussion between bell hooks and Melissa Harris-Perry that is too long to embed here, but should be watched.
If I am to celebrate history that means something to me then bell hooks has to be a part of that. You cannot love something that doesn't impassion you. Even now, writing a sentence like that makes me wonder if I didn't cull that from reading her all these years. I think I fell in love because not many writers speak to me this way, this familiar voice whose words make sense when I consider how torn down I had become to be overjoyed that another person called me brilliant. That's not what I was used to, but it's this final quote of bell hook's that makes me tie it all together.