It’s tempting to write more about bell hooks, than sharing my experience connecting with her writing. Yet, sharing my journey is a form of remembrance which aligns with hooks’ desire to treat her legacy with care. That caring for someone’s life work means more than sharing a bibliography.
Who is bell hooks?
To describe hooks as a Black woman who wrote about feminism, race, class etc., undermines how broadly her work resonated with others. To me, bell hooks’ work and influence goes much deeper than that, as she was fundamentally anti-domination and pro-love.
Kentucky-born writer Gloria Jean Watkins adopted the name bell hooks as a tribute to her maternal great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks. Watkins formatted bell hooks in lower-case to detach herself from her written work.
hooks passed away in December 2021, after a long career of being an academic, author, social activist and teacher. Her work focused on identifying and challenging systems of oppression and discrimination while unpacking “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy” to critique the political landscape she lived in.
The Right Place
So why am I writing about bell hooks?
I’m a Black/biracial woman who grew up in a white family in Scotland. Feeling racially isolated, I struggled to define a Black perspective as an adult.
After moving to South Korea in 2014, I met my first Black friends. They were all from North America, both Canada and the US. In a way, my understanding of Blackness outside of Scotland is filtered through a North American lens. Which was further expanded by the literature I read while living in East Asia. I had the chance to read fictional and non-fiction books by writers of colour that I found during my travels. Growing up, I loved to read, but the authors and characters were always white.
Reading as a child was a form of escapism, which led me to other white worlds. When I was outside of the UK, and in non-predominately white settings, my reading reflected that. I was inhibiting spaces that I no longer wanted to escape from. Yet there was still confusion over my place in the world. When I discovered bell hooks’, her books gave me a grounded understanding of myself and my environment.
hooks writes from her experience growing up in the segregated South, but what she explores in her writing can be applied to the universal level. Regardless of where people live, or whomever they were interacting with.
I didn’t start writing because of bell hooks. But subconsciously her words gave me the confidence to share my own work, especially my experience as a Black woman and the racially homogeneous environments I was living in.
hooks writes unapologetically, so often I felt like I needed permission to share. When I began writing, I wouldn’t have submitted anything without the validation of the writers and editors around me. Recognising my instincts and feeling supported by hooks’ tone inspires me to go deeper regarding my perspectives on race and identity and has helped me to grow as a writer and as a creative. I do not feel ashamed to write and share myself with the world.
The Right Time
I first heard of bell hooks while reading an old blog post (which has been lost to time) by games writer, Austin Walker. This was at a time where I didn’t know how to further increase my knowledge of race and racial identity. When I was beginning to reflect on how much leaving the UK had impacted me.
In 2018, I stumbled across the book mentioned by Walker; Black Looks: Race and Representation at Taipei Public Main Library. Although interesting, this media studies book didn’t dramatically alter my understanding of the world.
It was later in 2020, when I found All About Love: New Visions at a second-hand bookstore in Taipei, that I began to feel the power of bell hooks. bell hooks is a writer who has offered the world so much in terms of perspective, vocabulary and frameworks. By writing about love, she has presented practical ways to improve societies and individuals that actively harm so many.
Afterwards, I ordered her Love Trilogy, which included a second copy of All About Love, Communion: The Female Search for Love, Salvation: Black People and Love, and additionally The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love.
All my physical copies of her books are gone. I gave them to people I felt needed to read about different forms of love.
Yet not everyone is ready to experience hooks’ work. One friend couldn’t get past the second chapter of All About Love, which discussed children and childhood. To acknowledge love and loving practices, means also confronting a lack of love and non-loving practices. With many non-loving practices being a normalised part of everyday life. Normalised constructs of society.
It takes so much work to love and to receive love. At a systemic level, we have been encouraged to forget how to love. Therefore, to defy that by reading and writing about love is a radical act. Both in 1999 when hooks published All About Love, and now, twenty years later.
bell hooks has been along with me in every step of my journey; finding love within myself and understanding others (Love Song to the Nation). Finding community through writing (Belonging: A Culture of Place) and understanding my role as an educator (Teaching to transgress).
It is such a privilege to have hooks’ work from all different stages of her life. Who knows how hooks’ writing will continue to support me, as I age (Sisters of the Yam: Black women and self-recovery) and the generations to come (Happy to be Nappy).
I hope others can experience this type of lifelong guidance.
Either through bell hooks, or another writer who resonates with them on a soul level.
Zoe Lorimer (she/her) is a Black-Scottish freelance writer and creative from Edinburgh. She is now returning to Scotland after eight years teaching in East Asia. Passionate about social-well being and racially-marginalised communities, Zoe writes to educate herself and others. Her writing has been featured internationally by Black Ballad, Ketagalan Media and The News Lens.
Find her at: https://tinyletter.com/zoelarimar