Remembering bell

My friendship with bell hooks began in 2005, after bell moved to Berea, when we worked together to organize the 2006 summer conference for NCTE’s Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning.  Some 80 educators ended up participating in “Writing for Reconciliation,” and my time with bell planning and enacting the successful three-day conference forged a strong friendship.   

Through the next years, bell visited my classes in writing, autobiography, literacy, and sustainability.  And we regularly spent time together, talking.  Our friendship was fed by our shared sense of the importance of spirit in education, our interestingly-related Southern girlhoods, and especially our love of reading and writing. 

bell was a consummate writer.  Writing was the way she knew the world.  She wrote every day, early mornings, in hand, on a pad or in a notebook.  Her fingers, long and slim, seemed made to hold a pen. “Writing is my passion,” she writes in Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work, which she said was her favorite among her nearly 40 books. “Writing has been for me one of the ways to encounter the divine,” she writes. “Seduced by the magic of written and spoken words in childhood, I am still transported, carried away by writing and reading.”  

bell was also a voracious reader, regularly reading—really reading—several books a day.  She owned neither television nor computer; books overflowed her shelves, sitting in stacks on the floor near her reading sofa.  I often lent her books I was eager to read, knowing she’d have finished with them well before I could get to them.  bell loved having favorite words of other writers in her heart and voice.  She memorized and recited poems, making the words her own.  I remember especially the pleasure she took in saying Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,”  the way her voice caressed Hughes’ words.  To celebrate her birthday each year, she invited friends to read to her their favorite poems. 

bell was in the world by means of words, comfortable on a stage in front of thousands.  She was at home in the world, walking a path of connection, noticing and speaking to everyone, bringing a sense of home to others.  Though she thrived on exchanges with others, she was a person of great interiority, creating around herself an aura of repose.  She was able to be; she did not have always to do.   

For bell, writing was a place of sanctuary, a place where healing comes because the writer is bearing witness, as she wrote in reflecting on the 2006 conference in a piece published in JAEPL, the Assembly’s journal.  At the conference’s closing session, bell invited us to write to explore a reconciliation we all must make—a reconciliation with our own deaths.  Sharing our writings created a powerful connection, she wrote.  “Late into the night I could hear the mutual give and take of our words—the sound of deep listening.  They entered my dreams like a kind of music—luring, inviting me to sleep with the certainty that death will one day surely come.  And that when it does I can call out, greeting death tenderly—with complete reconciliation” (“Writing for Reconciliation” 1).

I believe that bell achieved that reconciliation in her death, surrounded by family and friends, knowing she had loved and was loved.  I miss her dearly, her words, voice, presence, spirit, her aging beauty.  “Hello, friend,” she often greeted me.   

Hello, “Ms. bell,” my friend.  Hail and fare thee well.

Works Cited

hooks, bell. Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work. Henry Holt, 1999. 

—. “Writing for Reconciliation.” The Journal for the Assembly of Expanded Perspectives on Writing, vol. 13, no. 3, 2007, p1.  

An Open Letter to bell hooks

Dear bell hooks, 

I pray that you rest now. Finally. For rest is a difficult feat- as a feminist activist, as a woman, a woman of color.  

As students of Gender Studies, although we were introduced to your writings only now, reading them gave us the air of conversing with a pen pal on the other side of the world – physically distant, but emotionally intimate. 

For you write from the heart, you write from experience. You forefront your experience, your location in theorising, instead of abstracting it – the term “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” gave so many of us the vocabulary to locate our oppressions and to leverage our lived experiences as valuable forms of knowledge.  

Before I moved to Gender Studies, my disciplinary training lay in International Relations and Political Science. As an early-career scholar and student of color located in the developing world, in studying these disciplines, a lingering feeling remained – of being small and insignificant in front of all the grand eurocentric theories and theorists that felt beyond my control and agency, so far removed that how could I make a difference. You taught me that the answers laid in unravelling my location, right where I was. Your approach of “theory as a liberatory practice” made theory accessible. Not just that, it provided me the language to articulate and name my oppressions, and locate how I engage with them. It provided a bridge for lived realities, for those eroded to the background – nuts and bolts in the grand machinery, invaluable, but invisibilized, to find space in knowledge formation and production. In theorizing and visibilizing the experiences of your self, your community and location, you gave others courage to do the same, and for that we are grateful. 

Your journey, from growing up in a racially segregated US South, to finding writing as an emancipatory tool, to the accomplished author and activist you left the world as, illuminates the possibility and joy in healing from pain. Encouraging looking within, granting ourselves power, celebrating our accomplishments, while being aware of the ways “interlocking systems of domination” are designed to make us feel inferior, aspiring to be something that we are not – the internalized patriarchy, racism, casteism. My journey, as a young woman, hurting, feeling encaged, in neo-colonial, neo-liberal patriarchies that operate even in overtly democratic egalitarian spaces towards one that recognized the intersections of various structures that made me feel not good enough, no matter my achievement, and the awareness that this brought in the way I could self-determine my worth and heal in the way I now engage with these structures in my lived reality. 

One of the outcomes of that journey in understanding the intersecting systems at play, was the need to do so within a framework and not let it be a solitary exercise. And that emancipatory, liberating space was found for me, as for you, in the classroom. Entering the Gender Studies classroom created a safe space for the diversity of our experiences and connected our individual realities and locations to broader frameworks.  

Thank you for centering democracy, participation and presence in pedagogy, rather than hierarchy in teaching. The other day we were analyzing your seminal work on “Oppositional Gaze” in class and each of us brought our layers, beyond the original text – from queer, disability, caste, religion, neurodivergent and so many other perspectives that propounded the meaning of the term. It was possible because each of us was able to put our lens to the term, which would not have been possible in a linear pedagogy that negated our presence. 

One of my friends, a PhD research scholar, who is now discovering the joy of teaching, found the classroom a space for subversion and transgression, in an increasingly stifling discourse in familial and community spaces she has to live in, and finds power, in her capacity as the teacher, to transform the hierarchical and gendered way family conversations and community discussions take place. 

You may not be with us physically, but your words have immortalized you. Rest now, for you have been heard. Rest peacefully, for the flame that your works have sparked in our minds, in the ways that we engage with the everyday, in seeing experience as a critical category, each in our own realities and locations, will keep your legacy alive.  

Thank you, for making us feel less alone about our oppressions, agencies and locations, for feeling seen and validated in the face of multiple oppressions that serve to deny your existence to erasure is one of the key leverages in negotiating power. 

Sincerely, 

Abhiruchi 

bell hooks Memorial

The Image shows brown barn set against a clear blue sky. To the left of the barn is a silo. In front of the barn is a white gate and a driveway running through a trimmed lawn.

“the glory in old barns / surpassing time / wood gray shadowed black / faded colors / places where painted signs / tell of products / no longer in use / standing or falling down / these structures / carry the weight of history / work done and undone / memories of toil and torment / there was bounty here / tears for sowing / lamentations for the dead / all fragments that remain / remind us / give thanks / gather praise”

—(bell hooks, “20.” from Appalachian Elegy) 

Like many others, I learned about Appalachia as Appalachia while seated in a college classroom. The place I grew up, where my family has called home for generations, was always just home to me, but on day one of an Appalachian Literature course at Young Harris College, I was assigned Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place by bell hooks. That assigned reading marked my first steps toward nuancing home: a place not just Southern, but also Appalachian. hooks’ collection is one I teach my own students today. Though her words respond to Kentucky’s history and give voice to Kentucky’s forgotten rural people of color, north Georgia students—once me, now my undergraduates—find many applicable images and lessons from the Appalachia hooks highlights because her comments on race, class, and other demographic differences push against dominant narratives across the region and nation-at-large. Her emphasis on the intersections between history and identity of the land, the people, and the power dynamics throughout bear important weight beyond Kentucky’s borders; hope for a better future, as balanced with awareness of the past, is an evergreen lesson for us all.  

In poem “20.” from Appalachian Elegy, hooks’ speaker gives readers the image of an old barn wherein labor, loss, and triumph are all preserved by the slowly rotting wood: material memory. A single structure, replicated across Appalachia, embodies the very real labor of those who erected it and simultaneously the very real hope of those same individuals. All active farm work assumes a future touched at least partially by hope, as working the land requires comfort with time. A barn in its prime is a symbol of active labor, active hope, and obvious utility; however, those old barns peppered across the region today are stunted in regard to all three of the aforementioned qualities. Instead of pushing those ideas, their strongest claim is one of belonging. The old structures lay claim to the now and reiterate hooks’ points about knowing a land and people’s pasts because, even in their unkept states, they remind us of past generations who lived where we live, walked where we walk.  

For me, the old barns I see daily in Union County, Georgia make me think about my dad, grandaddy, and many others who depended and still depend on returns from the land. The structures make me think about the toll manual labor takes on the body over time: human bodies and the clay. Our relationship, simply as people, with the land is complicated by widespread kairotic influences including but not limited to changing weather, occupation and income opportunities, important intersectional concerns, and blight; hooks’ poetry gives us ways to begin discerning this web of influence for the silenced voices of Black and Indigenous Kentuckians. Though it all begins with awareness, hooks’ words resonate with me in trying to find intergenerational balance, a way to mesh the past with our communal future, and hope for uncovering a sense of belonging. My students and I wrestle with these lessons in hooks’ abstract poems every semester—explicating “all fragments that remain” (hooks, line 16)—as we search for respectful ways to be. She helps us place ourselves and nuance existing structures, and that placing teaches us to think beyond the now and beyond the individual.  

Works Cited

hooks, bell. Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place. UP of Kentucky, 2012. 

embracing the erotic

I first engaged with bell hooks at the end of my Master’s program when I was given Teaching to Transgress and Teaching Community from my longtime mentor. It would take me three additional years to crack open the pages but it was an experience nearly ten years later that would challenge and change me.

Being a Black woman in the academy has yet to be easy. The daily challenges o fmicroaggressions and hidden Ivory Tower blockages force me to accept that the university will never love me, despite the great ardor I have for it. I liken it to an abusive relationship – I give and it takes, until I hurt, until I bleed with the desire to be worshiped and embraced. To be handled with tenderness and care. Without these intense feelings being acknowledged, I have learned to turn towards my students. I give them the love I so desperately seek from higher ed, from writing studies. To do so, I use hooks’ pedagogical practice of eros and the erotic in an attempt to teach the whole bodies of my students.

Reading “Eros, eroticism, and the pedagogical process” and “Ecstasy: Teaching and learning without limits” changed my association to the academy and provided me with the tools I needed to build powerful relationships with my Black students, who were also not well loved by the university. hooks tells us, “To call attention to the body is to betray the legacy of repression and denial that has been handed down to us by our professional elders, who have been usually white and male” (1993, p.58). I work hard to acknowledge the Black bodies, to tell them that I love having them in my classrooms and that I love the energy that they bring each day. To tell them that their smiles and melanin give me strength and hope, that I am impassioned when teaching them and being in the space with them. That I love them. Over the course of the semester, we shake hands, laugh, and sometimes hug. Educating them in this way is an act oflove. My love is critical pedagogy. My love is Black feminsit critical pedagogy.

When I taught a graduate seminar on critical pedagogy in 2020, I knew Teaching to Transgress was a must. In the virtual classroom of white faces and black boxes, hooks’ exploration of the erotic and estcasy was met with anger and confusion. I distinctly recall two comments, “She loves her students? That is disgusting and illegal!” and “She is in love with a student. Everything until this essay was so inspirational and now I don’t care for hooks at all.” Shook to my core, I found myself in the unexpected position of defending hooks’ words and fighting to articulate why and how love is the answer to radically challenging the institution as changeagents. Couldn’t they see that love is so much more than affection? It is personal. It is expansive. It is collective. Love, eros, the erotic, the estacy of teaching is how we all get the pleasure of overcoming oppression. hooks knew.

Work Cited

hooks, bell. “Eros, Eroticism, and the Pedagogical Process.” Cultural Studies, vol. 7, no. 1, 2003, pp. 58-63, DOI:10.1080/09502389300490051.

A Story of bell hooks

The first thing you had to know about her was that she spelled her name in all lower case letters. bell hooks. Writing a syllabus, or an article, you had to correct the auto-correct when you typed. Of course, it made you hyper-conscious of her name. But it was neither a rhetorical trick nor a mannerism, I think. Instead, it was an argument, one she maintained throughout her life. It was a way of saying we were all—speaker and listener, teacher and student—one, alike in our smallness, alike in our uniqueness. If we can see ourselves as lower case listeners, helpers, lovers, and friends, she implies, we move beyond what separates us. We might move beyond Class, Gender, Race and the ugly negatives those big words call up—injustice, inequality, intolerance.  We could take up instead the truly big ideas of mutual respect and connection. 

Like many in our field, I first encountered bell hooks in Teaching to Transgress. The book changed my teaching life. She was frank, so refreshing, as she spoke about racism and the walls of custom and distance teachers must break down. “I celebrate teaching that enables transgression,” she proclaimed, echoing Freire. “It is that movement which makes education the practice of freedom.” Reading her, I felt her honesty. I felt I knew her.  

I got the chance several years later.  She came to my university for three days as part of a two-year program on race and gender, which had brought together twenty or so professors across disciplines.  My colleague Ben and I met her at the airport, and we took her to lunch.  She had a merry face and spoke with energy and humor about her work. But I truly realized how engaged she was when, at the end of our meal she looked across the table with a little smirk. “Why haven’t you asked me about Kentucky?” she said. “You’re a Kentucky girl too.” She laughed, and I, surprised that she knew about me, stammered something and laughed too.   Driving back to the building on campus where she was to stay, she asked about shopping in town. “I see a TJ Maxx over there,” she smiled. So we shopped. Ben stood in the front of the store while bell and I looked for candle-holders and soap and undergarments. We bought bras. By the time I took her to the little pink and frilly room in the Faculty Center, it seemed we were friends.  

The next day at the workshop, she began with a question for all of us seated in our large circle. “Tell me one thing that’s great about you,” she began. We went around the circle. I was the second one to speak. “I’m a loyal friend,” I said. She looked hard at me. “That’s not enough,” she told me. Or something very like. I was a little stunned, a bit hurt. We completed the opening discussion, everyone offering something, no one challenged but me.  

The workshop was invigorating, thrilling even. Her talk the next night electrified her audience, many of them students. I thanked her enthusiastically; someone else took her to the airport. bell was all I had thought her to be from my reading. But it took me awhile to understand her message—and it was that—to me. She knew, I finally came to see, that I hadn’t been honest. I had given a suitable answer and a “true” one, but not a vulnerable one. You can’t be a friend unless you show your self. 

bell’s point—consistently her point—was that dismantling racism, ending patriarchy, finding justice—required mutuality. We have to become vulnerable to the people around us if we would build trust and make change. She was authentic and vulnerable, and she demanded that we—I—be. Teaching to Transgress is an extended example of how this mutuality can happen. She asked teachers to let the guard down, to use real lived experience in order to show students how to use theirs. I knew that; I hadn’t trusted it.   

The list of her books shows her topics to be far-ranging, as they move from education to art and toward spirituality. I believe she uses a wide lens and a variety of locations to explore an essential, single point. People must transgress—break down barriers, both external and internal—in order to see. In All About Love religious leaders and philosophers like Thich Nhat Hanh fuel her discussion of the varieties of and the paths to love. Once we see and let ourselves be seen, she tells us, we can love. She knew well Freire’s comment that education is “an act of love and therefore an act of courage.” Teachers, leaders, artists, learners and lovers all have to risk ourselves. Whether in a classroom or a board room, a prison or a chapel, for bell hooks, it’s all about love. Always lower case. 

Afterword: “When We Are Loving”

I first read Teaching to Transgress in my M.A. program at University of Tennessee in 2000. It was my first introduction to bell hooks, and I was enthralled. I wanted to be a good teacher, and I was reading what my professors suggested, but it was a lot of brain-on-a-stick theory and research about rhetoric, the rhetorical situation. I was absorbed in hooks’s directness and focus on teaching. I remarked to my mentor, Mike Keene, about how much I appreciated hooks’s writing style, and he said, “well, it’s not academic writing.” This might sound like a dismissal, but it was in fact high praise; Mike admired hooks’s work and could even have been the person who recommended Teaching to Transgress to me.  

Reading the beautiful memorials in this issue once again showed me how important hooks’s clear writing style was. I am someone whose first language is Standard American (Written, Edited, Academic) English. I’m third-generation college. My mother had a graduate degree. In college and graduate school, I did the assigned reading and other reading I needed to do for my projects, which meant I stuck with it for as long as necessary. I spent an entire Sunday reading Donna Haraway’s 36-page “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s.” I had to engage in an active, ongoing process of thinking of real-world examples of every thought expressed in every mystifying sentence so that I had a solid understanding of the ideas. I was privileged: I had the luxury of time enabled by family financial support, and I was single with no family responsibilities. Although the reading I did in graduate school was difficult, I never found it alienating, and I never felt like I didn’t belong in graduate school. Reading hooks was more enjoyable and less of a chore, and I learned as much or more from hooks than other theorists. Over twenty years have passed since then, and I have become far more aware of many people’s experiences of aloneness in academia. Now, as I have read tributes to hooks, both here and on social media, I understand her writing style as more than just instructive and beautiful prose, but as inclusive and creating belonging where it is desperately needed.  

Since hooks passed away, I have been revisiting her work on love. At the time it was published, I didn’t understand why she was so interested in love; it seemed like a nebulous and touchy-feely topic to write about, and I was unable to see practical implications. After her death, I have been re-experiencing her work under very different material conditions from those 22 years ago. Now I have a spouse and three children, so my encounter with hooks was not an immersive, quiet Saturday afternoon alone. Instead, I’ve been playing her lectures on YouTube while folding laundry, loading and unloading the dishwasher, sweeping floors, and dealing with frequent interruptions from my family members. I’m in a book club through my local public library called “Beyond Black History Month,” in which we read a book every month. We’re reading All About Love: New Visions for the month of May, so I’m getting an early start. In this book, hooks writes: “When we are loving we openly and honestly express care, affection, responsibility, respect, commitment, and trust” (14). In one of her video lectures, she remarks that love is not compatible with domination, greed, envy, or destruction. It has implications for public policy: she asked, why do we think welfare is bad? She explains “genuine love” as “a combination of care, commitment, trust, knowledge, responsibility, and respect,” as well as “the will to nurture our own and another’s spiritual growth” (6-8). She says, again in one of the recorded lectures, that the American left hasn’t responded to the needs of the spirit. The right, however, knows and understands emotional needs, and they have used this knowledge to significant advantage. The left, hooks argued, has to talk about love. hooks knew this in the late 1990s, and maybe we are finally starting to realize that she’s right.  

Works Cited 

Haraway, Donna. “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s.” Socialist Review, vol. 80, 1985, pp. 65-107. 

hooks, bell. All About Love: New Visions. William Morrow, 2001. 

hooks, bell, and Beverly Guy-Sheftall. “This Ain’t No Pussy Shit|The New School.” YouTube, uploaded by The New School, 12 Oct. 2015. www.youtube.com/watch?v=hb5ktcC3UEk&t=2103s 

hooks, bell, and Cornel West. “A Public Dialogue between bell hooks and Cornel West.” YouTube, uploaded by The New School, 10 Oct. 2014.  www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LL0k6_pPKw 

Leading with Love, or a Pedagogy of Getting the Hell Over Myself

At the ripe age of 24, I stood in front of my bedroom mirror, wiped my sweaty palms down the front of my dress, and prepared to teach my first community college class. I was buzzing with six years of coursework in everything from Faulkner to feature writing but had never learned how to stand up in front of a room for fifteen weeks as Professor Bock. What if I quaked at the sound of my own voice? What if I was met with stares and snickers? So I operated under the recurring piece of advice I was given: “Remember that you’re in charge. You command the room.” 

By the time I had graduated and taken on a full-time teaching load between two schools, I felt like I had found my groove. I was still young but more confident and at ease around my students, especially the working adults who took night classes. And then one evening, I froze as one of them shuffled in with a crying baby in tow. She took a seat at the back of the class and bounced the child on her knee, whispering as she tentatively met my eyes. My face hardened into a scowl. When the class ended, she approached me to apologize. “I’m so sorry. At the last minute, I didn’t have anyone to watch her,” she said. “I saw your face. I know you weren’t pleased, and it won’t happen again.” This time, I felt myself grow hot with shame. I had commanded the room. But it didn’t feel good. 

I’ve carried that lesson with me for nearly a decade now: not the one I was teaching but the one my student gave me. Remembering bell hooks, I decided to replace my shame with opportunity. hooks writes in Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom that “when everyone in the classroom…recognizes that they are responsible for creating a learning community together, learning is at its most meaningful and useful.” No matter what my agenda for the day holds or what assignments are due the next week, my students can’t succeed if I’m not rooting for them. 

Envisioning the classroom as a space for community, collaboration, and transformation means decentering myself just as hooks did in both her theory and practice. “To build community requires vigilant awareness of the work we must continually do to undermine all the socialization that leads us to behave in ways that perpetuate domination,” she writes in Teaching Community, and I believe this starts with rejecting the “old school” of teaching as policing. On some days, it looks like throwing an encouraging smile to the commuter who struggles to make his train on time for class; on others, it looks like setting out crayons and paper in the writing center for children so that their mother can restructure her resume.  

Thank you, bell hooks, for your pedagogy of empathy and respect. You brightly lit my path to becoming an asset to my students and never an obstacle. 

Works Cited

hooks, bell. Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom. Routledge, 2009. 

—. Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope. Routledge, 2003. 

A Haunted Dwelling Place: Honoring bell hooks

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?

These are questions that reading hooks’ Belonging:A Culture of Place allows me to ponder.

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.

When I began to imagine education as a place from which to be emboldened, not to pretend, that is when I started to feel at home in a place that felt so frightening and unfitting to me: college. hooks writes:

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.

 

Works Cited

hooks, bell. Belonging: A Culture of Place. Routledge, 1990.
—. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. Pluto Press, 2000.

Finding Home: Cultivating a Culture of Belonging

bell hooks’s enduring contributions to feminist spatial studies highlight the connections between space and identity. In “Kentucky is My Fate,” the second chapter of Belonging: A Culture of Place, bell hooks maps the territories of her life as she recounts her experiences of living in Kentucky, California, and New York. Through telling the story of her life in various places, hooks’ recognizes her deep connection to her home state of Kentucky and realizes that moving away from home has allowed her to understand her identity as a Kentuckian. For hooks, homeplace is not just a physical place; it is a place where one belongs. She cites Carol Lee Flinders definition of the culture of belonging to clarify her feelings of home: A culture of belonging is “one in which there is ‘intimate connection with the land to which one belongs, empathic relationship to animals, self-restraint, custodial conservation, deliberateness, balance, expressiveness, generosity, egalitarianism, mutuality, affinity for alternative modes of knowing, playfulness, inclusiveness, nonviolent resolution, and openness to spirit’”( Flinders13). hooks applies Flinders’ definition of a culture of belonging when she describes the freedom she experiences when she roams the hills of the “racially integrated” Kentucky of her childhood (8). Kentucky serves as the birthplace of her values, a place where she learned to be self-reliant and honest. Her identity as a Kentuckian and her feelings of belonging intensify as she moves to other states and reaffirms her decision to return.  

As hooks acknowledges, when we return home, we find only remnants of home:  

My decision to make my home in Kentucky did not emerge from any sentimental assumption that I would find an uncorrupted world in my native place. Rather I knew I would find there living remnants of all that was wonderful in the world of my growing up. During my time away I would return to Kentucky and feel again a sense of belonging that I never felt elsewhere, experiencing unbroken ties to the land, to homefolk, to our vernacular speech. (24)  

Home provides a sense of identity and comfort. hooks’s work sheds light on the connection between homeplace and identity. As a child in Kentucky, hooks establishes a sense of self through the language, values, land, and beliefs that surround her in the place she calls home. The sense of self as well as sense of home follows her throughout her life. Moving beyond the boundaries of home allowed hooks to recognize the “serious dysfunctional aspect of the southern world” while providing her with “strategies for resistance” (hooks 19). In finding home, hooks’ lays the groundwork for her writings exploring the marginalization and resistance that will be studied by future generations.  

hooks’s landmark writing maintains its relevance in today’s classrooms as home and classroom become closely intertwined. As an online educator, each week I am invited into students’ homes. hooks’ emphasis on home and identity reverberates as I capture glimpses of students’ identities as I observe scurrying children, barking dogs, colorful artworks, kaki military uniforms, and musical instruments. Their material objects rhetorically communicate their resistance to containerization as their multifaceted identities become clearer with each class period.  

Students’ identities entwined in home provide fuel for meaningful writing. Like hooks’s “unbroken ties to the land, to homefolk,” and “vernacular speech,” students’ literacies communicated through multimodal projects convey their ties to their home (24). hooks’s words often echo in my mind as I reflect on a student demonstrating how to make cuy, a famous Peruvian dish, or another student showcasing an Appalachian quilt pattern as part of a technical writing presentation. Through sharing foods, preparation, quilting materials, techniques, and language, students created meaningful connections between their education, homeplace, and identity. hooks’s writings remain timeless as they continue to prompt educators to create a culture of belonging by linking the classroom with students’ homes.  

 Works Cited 

hooks, bell. Belonging: A Culture of Place. Routledge, 2009.  

bell hooks Memorial

As I paused in shock, reading the news online of bell hooks’ passing on December 15, 2021, my mind returned to my fondest memory of hooks’ impact: discussing her writing with a group of (white, privileged) first-year college students several years ago. The course was Great Ideas in Feminism (my attempt to turn the largely white, cis-het male-dominated “Great Ideas” curriculum on its head). For our first class meeting that cold, gray January day, I asked students to read an excerpt from hooks’ 2000 text Feminism is for Everybody. I chose the text for its accessibility, knowing this was likely the first in-depth discussion of feminism any of these new college students had experienced. I knew I had misconceptions to clear up before we could truly begin the course. I wanted my students to know, to begin with, that feminism really was for everybody, not just for women. hooks’ message is one of inclusiveness, which is useful to any political argument: to unify rather than to divide. 

My students’ reception to the text was more successful than I even expected: students easily accepted hooks’ definition of feminism as being a problem of sexist beliefs and actions, not a problem of sex. Patriarchal culture is the problem, not men themselves (hooks 1). For an author to so plainly and clearly state this fact about feminism was a revelation to my students—and I was so proud to see it happen. Even the students who would regularly play devil’s advocate for other discussion texts during the term—such as questioning the validity of rape statistics in the introduction to Ensler’s The Vagina Monologuesaccepted her statements about feminism with no trouble. 

hooks’ impact on feminism through this text goes much further than the inclusivity of the title, of course: hooks’ writing style in not only this work but all of her writings live out her philosophy of inclusiveness, of bringing people together. First, her use of plain language, of short, straightforward sentences, of personal pronouns, all help her speak directly to the reader, inviting them in to learn more about feminism. Rather than using the cold, formal language of academia, hooks intends to reach everyone and anyone, not just people like her. It makes sense, then, that hooks adopts Sojourner Truth’s famous words “Ain’t I a Woman?” in the title of her 1981 book about Black women and feminism. Just as Truth used the informal diction of that rhetorical question to be relatable and understandable, hooks adopts not just those words but also that philosophy of plain speech to draw in readers. 

In Feminism is for Everybody, as well as all of her works, hooks believes there is strength in unity, not in division. Her writing is an invitation to the reader to learn more, not a dismissal of what they’ve done wrong. It is this inclusivity—this love—that allows her to educate all of us on a truly progressive notion of feminism, one that includes instead of excludes. Gloria Steinem, in her memorial to hooks in the LA Review of Books, notes the importance of this rhetorical move: “Especially in this global era when unity is being imposed by danger, bell’s unifying message of love has come just in time” (Yancy, G. et al). In a time of great division, hooks’ words are needed now more than ever. 

Feminism was lucky to have hooks as its advocate. My students were fortunate to have learned from her. All of us were blessed to have known her and her work, because truly, feminism really is for everybody. 

Works Cited

 

hooks, bell. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. South End Press, 2000. 

Yancy, George, et al. “A Tribute to bell hooks. Los Angeles Review of Books, 15 Jan. 2022, https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/a-tribute-to-bell-hooks/.