bell hooks remember: “She embodied everything I wanted to be” | Books


Reni Eddo-Lodge. Photograph: Suki Dhanda / The Observer

Reni Eddo-Lodge: “When I tried to develop my own writing, I read his”

British journalist and bestselling author Why do I no longer talk about race to whites

They are bell hooks that planted the seed of a book in my brain. In a 2013 conversation with Melissa Harris-Perry, she said she didn’t trust the internet, that an outlet could be unplugged at any time, and anything we put there could one day be lost. I was writing for the Internet at the time – fleeting articles that were often swept away by busy deadlines. Hearing his thoughts persuaded me to slow down the uploading of my work and instead seek to devote my political energy to writing something physical that could be held and mentioned, handed to someone, used as a tool.

But long before I was influenced by his conversation with Melissa Harris-Perry, I had read his work voraciously. I first discovered it in my early twenties as I navigated the whiteness of British feminism. Her writings were not printed in Britain at the time, so PDF files of her work, such as Ain’t I a Woman, were circulating among activist groups. It served as a balm for those of us seeking refuge from the hostility of white feminists.

bell hooks in New York, 1996.
bell hooks in New York, 1996. Photograph: Karjean Levine / Getty Images

But her writing wasn’t just about feminist divides. She was prolific, writing dozens of books on topics such as race, feminism, social class, capitalism, masculinity, academia, children’s rights, spirituality, and love. His writings on love, in particular, have served as a guide for me and for so many others. It was an expansive analysis, with an intelligent feminist practice shining through, anchoring those of us who had strayed. Her first book was written when she was a student, but all of her work held ancestral wisdom. She reminded female dissidents of the better world we were working towards.

When I tried to develop my own writing, I read his. She embodied everything I wanted to be, writing with a compassion, care and clarity that I aspire to emulate in my own work.

Upon news of his passing, I cried under my mask on a London bus, the gravity of his influence on me hitting me like a punch. I would have liked to credit her more. But after the initial shock passed, I felt gratitude: for the work she had given us all and for it to reach me at the right time. Because our two periods on this planet overlap in such a way that I was able to watch her court her on a stage in New York from a storeroom in London. For the seed that was planted.

David Olusoga.
David Olusoga. Photograph: Karen Robinson / The Observer

David Olusoga: “She pushed me to broaden my horizons”

British historian, broadcaster and author of Black and British: A Forgotten History

I have encountered bell hooks just once. It was in the early 2000s and I was producing a TV documentary on how African Americans had, since civil rights, created a unique intellectual culture that had generated a large pantheon of black public intellectuals. hooks, one of the stars of this phenomenon, was inevitably one of the main interviewees. I remember very little of my interview with her, carried out in a Manhattan brownstone belonging to one of her friends. But I remember very well what happened next. After the interview, we all went for a drink and the real questioning began. hooks asked me about my background, my training and especially my ambitions. She suggested books to me that I should read, people I should meet, and for a few hours she was endlessly encouraging – besides being smart and funny.

She urged me, a young black television producer she had just met, to broaden my horizons and not limit my ideas on what I could become. His envy was swayed by that sense of motivation that highly educated African Americans so often have and black Britons are so often impressed. At a time in my life when the television industry seemed so determined to give me a record and set limits on my expectations, his warmth and generosity was almost overwhelming. We finished our drinks, she smiled, wished me luck, and was whisked away in an oversized American car, heading for her next date. I always hoped to see her again, but I never did. To my shame, I never had the chance to let her know how much our meeting had meant to me.

Jay Bernard.
Jay Bernard. Photography: Alicia Canter / The Guardian

Jay Bernard: “She transmitted the deceptively simple idea that to love is to think, and to think is to love”

London writer, artist and activist whose poetry on the New Cross Fire won them the Ted Hughes Award and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award

I read bell hooks for the first time after graduating from college, a very lost and exhausted person. I moved halfway around the world and found Teaching to Transgress and Teaching Community, which helped me start unlearning the problematic and downright racist liberalism that I had learned during my studies. For me, the influence of Bell Hooks is felt in that it conveyed the deceptively simple idea that to love is to think, and to think is to love.

bell hooks during an interview for his book Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work in 1999.
bell hooks during an interview for his book Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work in 1999. Photograph: The Washington Post / Getty Images

It’s very difficult to practice, and his books hold nothing back to tell us to try. She has now finished speaking. Whether we do it is entirely up to us.

Johny Pitts.
Johny Pitts. Photography: Antonio Olmos / The Observer

Johny Pitts: “She taught a whole generation that we weren’t there just to be turned into commodities”

British presenter, photographer and Jhalak Prize winner author Afropean: Notes of Black Europe. He is the curator of The Eyes number 12: The B side, which features black photographers and bell hook quotes

In addition to focused rage, true activism involves innovation. bell hooks had it all, but it was above all his exceptional interventions around the notion of “opposing gaze” that propelled me as a black writer and photographer. The idea that not only was I allowed to exist as a documentary maker, but the very act of looking back was an act of resistance. She taught a whole generation that we weren’t there just to be looked at and turned into commodities, but that we could – should – be involved in the production of images.

Jeffrey Boakye.
Jeffrey Boakye. Photography: Jeffrey Boakye

Jeffrey Boakye: “His words will remain vital, moving and rooted in compassion”

Author of Black, indexed: black British culture explored and Hang in there: black masculinity, millennials, and the meaning of filth

In these times of division and ideological polarization, it seems we need the clarity of thought and passionate integrity more than ever that Bell Hooks so completely embodies in their work. Generations of thinkers owe a debt to her legacy of thought in the fields of racism, feminism, marginality and their various intersections. His words will remain vital, moving, and ultimately rooted in the soil of compassion. A tribute to an imposing figure of criticality, whose name (in lower case) is now synonymous with the most serious and incisive questions about who we are.

Marguerite Atwood.
Marguerite Atwood. Photograph: Jeremy Chan / Getty Images

Margaret Atwood: “Her dedication to the cause of ending ‘sexism, gender exploitation and oppression’ was exemplary”

Author of more than 50 books, twice awarded Booker, including The Handmaid’s Tale, The blind assassin and Wills

the bell hooks embodied incredible courage and deeply felt intelligence. Finding her own words and her own power, she has inspired countless other people to do the same. His dedication to the cause of ending “sexism, gender exploitation and oppression” was exemplary.

His impact has spread far beyond the United States: many women around the world owe him a great debt.

Candice Carty-Williams.
Candice Carty-Williams. Photograph: Suki Dhanda / The Observer

Candice Carty-Williams: “The legacy she leaves behind is monumental and lasting”

British author of the bestselling novel Queen. She won book of the year on 2020 British Book Awards, becoming the first black woman to do so

bell hooks was a writer whose breadth of sensibilities taught me, nurtured me, engaged me. But it was his writing about love that changed my life after a friend forced me to read All About Love, a book I have knew would contain so much power and truth that I was afraid of its contents. we will miss the bell hooks, but the legacy she leaves behind is monumental and enduring, as are the ideals of love she brought to life.

Aminatta Forna.
Aminatta Forna. Photography: RP

Aminatta Forna: “She took care to put me at ease”

Scottish and Sierra Leonean thesis writer The devil dancing on the water and four novels: Ancestral stones, The memory of love, The committed man and Joy

I met Bell Hooks as a young reporter when I was sent to interview him for the BBC Late Show. It was in the early 90s. She made sure to make me comfortable, played music, made us tea and complained that she couldn’t find anyone to braid her hair where she lived in Greenwich Village. In the interview that followed, she predicted the so-called “culture wars,” which I guess now in hindsight had already started in the United States. She said that one day the center would have to change. And she was right.

British Blacklist Lunch - BFI London Film Festival 2021 Afua Hirsch
Photograph: Dominic Lipinski / PA

Afua Hirsch: “She blew up the false binary between staff and academics”

British journalist, former lawyer and bestselling author of Brit (ish): About race, identity and belonging

Reading the doorbell hooks was a deeply relieving experience. She had powerfully identified and articulated, with a characteristic intellectual rigor, phenomena which I perceived instinctively but which I had never seen vocalized. Her writings on the crushing of the sexual integrity of black women, the founding racism of the “women’s movement” and the narratives that continue to divide and conquer black gender norms are hotly topical, despite the fact that she started writing them decades ago. .

And yet, as a young black woman, it is Bell’s generosity in sharing her own experience of love, sexuality and gender that has allowed her work to reach me in such a personal and direct. She blew up the false binary between staff and academic through her truth, and that continues to inspire me to this day.

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