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Remember the Ladies: bell hooks

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

bell hooks

bell hooks

Gloria Jean Watkins (born September 25, 1952), better known by her pen name bell hooks, is an American author, feminist, and social activist.

Watkins derived the name “bell hooks” from that of her maternal great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks. Her writing has focused on the interconnectivity of race, capitalism, and gender, and what she describes as their ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and class domination. She has published over thirty books and numerous scholarly and mainstream articles, appeared in several documentary films, and participated in various public lectures. Primarily through a postmodern perspective, hooks has addressed race, class, and gender in education, art, history, sexuality, mass media, and feminism.

Adult life
Her teaching career began in 1976 as an English professor and senior lecturer in Ethnic Studies at the University of Southern California. During her three years there, Golemics (a Los Angeles publisher) released her first published work, a chapbook of poems titled “And There We Wept” (1978), written under her pen name, “bell hooks”. She adopted her grandmother’s name as a pen name because her grandmother “was known for her snappy and bold tongue, which [she] greatly admired”. She put the name in lowercase letters “to distinguish [herself from] her grandmother”. She said that her unconventional lowercasing of her name signifies what is most important is her works: the “substance of books, not who I am”.

She taught at several post-secondary institutions in the early 1980s, including the University of California, Santa Cruz and San Francisco State University. South End Press (Boston) published her first major work, Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism in 1981, though it was written years earlier, while she was an undergraduate student. In the decades since its publication, Ain’t I a Woman? has gained widespread recognition as an influential contribution to postmodern feminist thought.

Ain’t I a Woman? examines several recurring themes in her later work: the historical impact of sexism and racism on black women, devaluation of black womanhood, media roles and portrayal, the education system, the idea of a white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy, the marginalization of black women, and the disregard for issues of race and class within feminism.

Since the publication of Ain’t I a Woman?, she has become eminent as a leftist and postmodern political thinker and cultural critic. She targets and appeals to a broad audience by presenting her work in a variety of media using various writing and speaking styles. As well as having written books, she has published in numerous scholarly and mainstream magazines, lectures at widely accessible venues, and appears in various documentaries.

She is frequently cited by feminists as having provided the best solution to the difficulty of defining something as diverse as “feminism”, addressing the problem that if feminism can mean everything, it means nothing. She asserts an answer to the question “what is feminism?” that she says is “rooted in neither fear nor fantasy… ‘Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression'”.

bell hooks in 2009

bell hooks in 2009

She has published more than 30 books, ranging in topics from black men, patriarchy, and masculinity to self-help, engaged pedagogy to personal memoirs, and sexuality (in regards to feminism and politics of aesthetic/visual culture). A prevalent theme in her most recent writing is the community and communion, the ability of loving communities to overcome race, class, and gender inequalities. In three conventional books and four children’s books, she suggests that communication and literacy (the ability to read, write, and think critically) are crucial to developing healthy communities and relationships that are not marred by race, class, or gender inequalities.

She has held positions as Professor of African-American Studies and English at Yale University, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and American Literature at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, and as Distinguished Lecturer of English Literature at the City College of New York.

In 2002, hooks gave a commencement speech at Southwestern University. Eschewing the congratulatory mode of traditional commencement speeches, she spoke against what she saw as government-sanctioned violence and oppression, and admonished students who she believed went along with such practices. This was followed by a controversy described in the Austin Chronicle after an “irate Arizonian” had criticized the speech in a letter to the editor. The newspaper reported that many in the audience booed the speech, though “several graduates passed over the provost to shake her hand or give her a hug”.

In 2004 she joined Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, as Distinguished Professor in Residence, where she participated in a weekly feminist discussion group, “Monday Night Feminism”; a luncheon lecture series, “Peanut Butter and Gender”; and a seminar, “Building Beloved Community: The Practice of Impartial Love”.

Her 2008 book, belonging: a culture of place, includes a very candid interview with author Wendell Berry as well as a discussion of her move back to Kentucky.

Hooks has undertaken three scholar-in-residences at The New School. Mostly recently she did one for a week in October 2014. She engaged in public dialogues with Gloria Steinem, Laverne Cox, and Cornel West.

Awards and nominations

  • Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics: The American Book Awards/ Before Columbus Foundation Award (1991)
  • Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism: “One of the twenty most influential women’s books in the last 20 years” by Publishers Weekly (1992)
  • bell hooks: The Writer’s Award from the Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest Fund (1994)
  • Happy to Be Nappy: NAACP Image Award nominee (2001)
  • Homemade Love: The Bank Street College Children’s Book of the Year (2002)
  • Salvation: Black People and Love: Hurston Wright Legacy Award nominee (2002)
  • bell hooks: Utne Reader?‘?s “100 Visionaries Who Could Change Your Life”
  • bell hooks: The Atlantic Monthly?‘?s “One of our nation’s leading public intellectuals”

Select bibliography

  • And There We Wept: Poems. (1978). OCLC 6230231.
  • Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism (1981). ISBN 0-89608-129-X
  • Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (1984). ISBN 0-89608-614-3

  • Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black (1989). ISBN 0-921284-09-8
  • Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (1990). ISBN 0-921284-34-9
  • Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life (1991) (with Cornel West). ISBN 0-89608-414-0
  • Black Looks: Race and Representation (1992). ISBN 0-89608-433-7
  • Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-recovery (1993). ISBN 1-896357-99-7
  • Teaching to Transgress: Education As the Practice of Freedom (1994). ISBN 0-415-90808-6
  • Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations (1994). ISBN 0-415-90811-6
  • Killing Rage: Ending Racism (1995). ISBN 0-8050-5027-2
  • Art on My Mind: Visual Politics (1995). ISBN 1-56584-263-4
  • Reel to Real: Race, Sex, and Class at the Movies. 1996. ISBN 0-415-91823-5. OCLC 35229108.
  • Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood (1996). ISBN 0-8050-5512-6
  • Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life (1997). ISBN 0-8050-5722-6
  • Happy to Be Nappy (1999). ISBN 0-7868-0427-0
  • Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work (1999). ISBN 0-8050-5910-5
  • Justice: Childhood Love Lessons. 2000. ISBN 0-688-16844-2. OCLC 41606283.
  • All About Love: New Visions (2000). ISBN 0-06-095947-9
  • Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics (2000). ISBN 0-89608-629-1
  • Where We Stand: Class Matters (2000). ISBN 978-0-415-92913-4
  • Salvation: Black People and Love (2001). ISBN 0-06-095949-5
  • Communion: The Female Search for Love (2002). ISBN 0-06-093829-3
  • Homemade Love (2002). ISBN 0-7868-0643-5
  • Be Boy Buzz (2002). ISBN 0-7868-0814-4
  • Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope (2003). ISBN 0-415-96817-8
  • Rock My Soul: Black People and Self-esteem (2003). ISBN 0-7434-5605-X
  • The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love (2003). ISBN 0-7434-5607-6
  • Space (2004). ISBN 0-415-96816-X
  • We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity (2004). ISBN 0-415-96926-3
  • Skin Again (2004). ISBN 0-7868-0825-X
  • Soul Sister: Women, Friendship, and Fulfillment (2005). ISBN 0-89608-735-2
  • Black Women: Shaping Feminist Theory pp. 60–68 In: Cudd, Ann E.; Andreasen, Robin O. (2005). Feminist Theory: a philosophical anthology. Oxford, UK; Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 9781405116619.
  • Homegrown: Engaged Cultural Criticism (2006). ISBN 9780896087590
  • Witness (2006). ISBN 0-89608-759-X
  • Grump Groan Growl (2008). ISBN 0-7868-0816-0
  • Belonging: A Culture of Place (2009). ISBN 041596816X
  • Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom (2010). ISBN 9780415968201
  • Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place (2012). ISBN 9780813136691
  • Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice (2013). ISBN 9780415539142

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