Bookish Birthday: bell hooks
25th Sep 2012
(from Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work)
Gloria Jean Watkins, better known these days as iconic cultural critic and feminist theorist bell hooks, was born in Kentucky in 1952. Coming from a working class family and attending a segregated school, she was conscious of social and cultural injustice from an early age.
Her first critical collection, Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism, was written while she was an undergraduate student and published in 1981.
Now considered a landmark text (“one of the twenty most influential women’s books in the last twenty years,” according to Publishers Weekly), it established bell hooks as an original, authoritative and insightful voice on topics of gender, race, class and culture.
She believed from the outset that these areas overlapped and interconnected, and needed to be analysed and addressed as such. Writing in a personal tone that was both anecdotal and accessible (in itself a bold, subversive move, considering she was writing in a field that continues to prize often impenetrable academic styles), she recognised and rallied against snobberies, prejudices and in-fighting between factions.
There will be no mass-based feminist movement as long as feminist ideas are understood only by a well-educated few.In her 1984 book, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, she reiterated the importance of education and accessibility, asserting “there will be no mass-based feminist movement as long as feminist ideas are understood only by a well-educated few.”
Believing feminism is for everybody (and penning a book to that effect), bell hooks is often credited for her definition of feminism, a topic so multi-faceted that it has endless scope for causing arguments as well as analysis and action. She claimed that “feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.”
Among numerous other topics, bell hooks has written extensively about contemporary pop culture, asserting that it is essential to recognise and challenge its constant stream of misinformation. Her books in this area include Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations and Reel to Real: Race, Sex and Class at the Movies.
She has lectured on all of this and more all over the world, winning critical acclaim and an array of awards, as well as appearing in numerous documentaries (including alongside Quentin Tarantino in BaadAsssss Cinema).
On her sixtieth birthday, we’ll be having a slice of birthday cake or six in bell hooks’ honour, thanking her for her visonary insight and ideas, as well as her ongoing passion and commitment to them, and recognising her influence on literature, feminism, academia and education.
For more from bell hooks, head to Feminist Magazine, which last year devoted an entire audio broadcast to her, in conversation with the woman herself and exploring her work, influence and impact.