Who Was bell hooks?

As first posted on feministbookclub.com

As I was coming from a walk with a white colleague, I was checking my smart watch to turn off my walking workout. I was distracted by a news alert that popped up. 

bell hooks, famed feminist writer, dies at age 69

“Oh no, bell hooks died.”

“Who?”

“bell hooks, the Black feminist writer”

*nonchalantly* “Oh, I don’t know who that is.”

I’m not sure when I discovered bell hooks, but I have known about her long before I read any of her books. In my mind, she was just one of those important people from history, like Angela Davis and Alice Walker; I knew their names, but not what they were famous for.

Feminists everywhere knows who Gloria Steinem and Susan B. Anthony are. They are seen as the foremothers of feminism and feminism as we know it today. bell hook’s name should be among them, but isn’t.

bell hooks was an instrumental feminist scholar, writing over 30 books in her lifetime on gender, race, and sexuality. She took the pretentiousness of academia and made it more accessible to everyday people.

Of course so many people haven’t engaged with her work because she is a Black woman, but I think it might also be because her writing was so accessible to the masses. The respectability of academia says to gatekeep and make critical theory attainable for individuals outside of the ivory towers.

Hence why that news alert reduced her scholarship to just being a writer.

bell hooks is prolific. I haven’t read many of her books, but everything I have read has touched me deeply in a way that makes it difficult to explain. All About Love is the only bell hooks book I own, but it’s so marked up and full of annotation tabs. It’s the only book I own that is so marked up. 

The best way I can explain what bell hook means to me is that I feel seen in her writing. I don’t feel like an object of a cold researcher formulating theories (because let’s face it, if Black women are being studied, it’s only in a way to pathologize them). She inserts herself into her theories, something that researchers often frown upon. 

bell hooks isn’t just for Black women; anyone can feel seen in her work. Her theories on race, gender, and sexuality are relevant to everyone. I hope you can see yourself, or at least a part of yourself, in her work too.

Here are my three suggestions to get started with bell hooks:

  1. Ain’t I a Woman Black Women and Feminism because this is her first book and so much in here still rings true today.
  2. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics because, duh, feminism is for everybody
  3. All About Love: New Visions because this just had me look at love in such a new light, from community love to romantic love.
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