Sanaé is a second-year English major.
To me, Gloria Jean Watkins, better known by her pen name, bell hooks, is one of the most important writers to emerge from the 20th century. As a writer and a Black woman who advocated for feminist ideology, it was hooks’ hope that other Black women, and women in general, saw her and her contemporaries reach their goal of being “no longer victimized, no longer unrecognized, no longer afraid,” and be inspired to “take courage and follow,” as stated in her book “Ain’t I a Woman.” Hooks passed away Dec.15 at the age of 69. She was a true pioneer, an amazing writer, leader, feminist, and so much more. Through her work, she has taught, guided, and inspired me, my fellow Black female writers, and other female writers of color, and for that, I will be forever grateful.
The first book I ever read of hooks’ was her influential novel “All About Love: New Visions.” The novel had an immediate impact on me and my life. First and foremost, the text helped me dispel notions perpetuated about human nature, society, and love that we are conditioned to believe. For example, the notion that romantic love is somehow greater than any other form of love. She put some of my feelings into words and taught me that genuine love, not just romantic, but platonic or self-love, can also be transformative, no matter how dark of a place you’re in. One of the most important things that she taught me is that love is an action, something to be intentional about, something she called a “love ethic.”
She also increased my awareness of how rampant and destructive individualism is in our society. It is so easy, too easy, to consume and internalize the ideals of getting ahead and being “successful” that are present in our society. Hooks reminds us we can not become so consumed by these ideals that we place them above all else. We need to value integrity and community.
While others believe that certain issues are hopelessly infectious and deeply embedded in our culture, hooks did not. Some may argue that believing anyone can truly change our society is futile and naive. However, hooks teaches us that change, although not easy, is possible when you act from a place of love. Her work reassures us that it is never too late to be awakened by love, and reiterates that we need a collective return to love and community.
Hooks also taught me more about the evils of capitalism and patriarchal ideology and that to combat them, we must live purposefully. The very act of her writing and actively speaking against what she disagrees with ensures that I can do the same. I can be free to write and call out those issues that I feel are present in our culture as a way to begin correcting them. As she said in her book “remembered rapture: the writer at work,” writing is an action in and of itself: “No black woman writer in this culture can write ‘too much.’ Indeed, no woman writer can write ‘too much.’ No woman has ever written enough.”
Moreover, hooks was true to her values and cared most about her work being accessible so that she could reach more people and inspire real change than anything else. In her work, she urges us all to challenge the way that things are, like the narratives we see in oppressive systems. Her work is one of the reasons why I strive to inspire positive change and work toward building community strength through an emphasis on education and advocacy.
Personally, this means using my voice as a writer to speak directly to the community about social issues. While I have yet to accomplish this in my life, hooks’ body of work provides me with a framework.
The insight she shared through her writing has made an impact not only on the way that I think but in my everyday life. Her words are sincere, and her work is about acting intentionally, without expecting to immediately be perfect at it. She would want me to be intentional, to be wary of what I assign value to in my life, to try to live more simply and to value my connections with those I love.