A Haunted Dwelling Place: Honoring bell hooks
Author(s): Ashley Canter
Ashley Canter is a PhD candidate in Rhetoric and Composition and Teaching Associate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her work focuses on transnational feminist rhetoric, affect studies, and Appalachian literacies.Tags: Appalachia, bell hooks, in memoriam
What makes a stretch of land more than just a dwelling place?
What does it mean to be home?
Who belongs in that place?
What does it mean to be Appalachian?
What does it mean to be an Appalachian working-class academic?
I grew up in a predominately white, rural, working-class community in mountainous Western North Carolina as a cisgender, queer, mixed race girl. I later moved to coastal South Carolina to obtain my undergraduate degrees. During my undergraduate education, I read bell hooks for the first time. The first time I heard the word “feminism” in an academic context, not as a derogatory term or in an ad, was when I was assigned to read Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics for a WGSS course. Reading this, I startedto change my mind about what home could mean.
Future feminist movements must necessarily think of feminist education as significant in the lives of everyone. Despite the economic gains of individual feminist women, many women who have ammassed wealth or accepted the contribution of wealthy males, who are our allies in struggle, we have created no schools founded on feminist principles for girls and boys, for women and men (Feminism is for Everybody 23).
It is because of hooks’ activism that me and so many of us historically excluded from spaces of higher education can find a kind of home here.
Now, I am working on achieving my PhD in Rhetoric and Composition in New England. Throughout my graduate program, I have felt moved by the conversations taking place in transnational feminist communities, in particular. That said, something about this always felt starkly separate from my first home in the mountains of North Carolina.
It wasn’t until I read Belonging that I realized why that is. I had succumbed to the many ways weare taught to view the violence and injustice that occurs in rural places as isolated, individualized. But, as hooks said, being away from home, and away from Appalachia, has a way of making you think differently and more passionately about what it may mean to come from that land and those people. “Living away from my native place, I become more consciously Kentuckian than I was when I lived at home. This is what the experience of exile can do, change your mind, utterly change one’s perception of the world of home” (Belonging 13). hooks helps me to see the ways that my experiences—learning to garden, to care in community-centered ways, to work with my hands and whole body, to not have enough and have an abundance simultaneously, to be home—are the very reasons why I can consider the structures of power and love that exist within and across places in such pressing ways now in my work as a feminist rhetorical scholar, teacher, learner, sister, daughter, friend, mentor, mentee. hooks leaves me and us as a field with a reminder that, as others have echoed, places continue toshift us long after we’ve left them. What we may be haunted by, are the ways we, too, shift places for so long after we’ve left them.