With the dying of bell hooks, a era of feminists misplaced a foundational determine


“We black women who represent feminist ideology are pioneers. We are paving a path for ourselves and our sisters. We hope that they will take heart as they see us reaching our goal – no more victims, no more unrecognized, no more fearful and follow.”

Bell Hooks, I’m not a woman

My library has well-worn Bell Hooks books scattered around. She’s in almost every department — race, class, film, cultural studies — and her books, predictably, take up an entire shelf in the feminist section. I doubt I would have survived this long without her work and the work of other black feminist thinkers of her generation to guide me. I pulled out every Bell Hooks book today, and the unwieldy pile comforts me as I assess the impact of their loss.

If you’ve ever heard Hooks speak, it wouldn’t be surprising that she first went to college to study acting, as she recounted in a 1992 essay. She blessed my college campus for a week in the 1990s, and I was mesmerized by lectures that were deliciously brilliant yet full of humor. Her banter with the audience during the Q&A waved easily between thoughtful answers, deep questions, and clever jokes that kept us in rapt attention. Your words grab just as much attention on the page. She was a prolific writer and her intellectual curiosity knew no bounds.

The discovery of bell hooks changed the lives of countless black women and girls. After picking up one of her many titles – Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center; Longing: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics; Ain’t I a Woman: Black women and feminism – the world suddenly made sense. She rearranged the universe, boldly giving us the language and theories to understand who we were in an often hostile and alienating society.

She also made it clear that as black women, we belong to no one but ourselves. A bad feminist from the start, Hooks was clearly uninterested in being safe, respectable, or acceptable and planned a career on her own terms. She begged us to transcend and fight, but do it with love and fearlessness. Her brave, bold and beautiful words not only spoke the truth to power, but also dared to speak the same truth to and about our beloved icons and our culture.

The discovery of bell hooks changed the lives of countless black women and girls.

DR. Lisa B. Thompson

As we traversed hostile spaces in science, in American business, in the arts, in medicine, and sometimes in our own families, Hooks not only taught us how to love ourselves but also insisted that we seek justice strive She has helped us better understand and, if necessary, forgive the women who gave birth and raised us. She asserted feminism without apology and encouraged black women in particular to embrace feminism and do more than just identify their oppression, but envision new ways of being in the world. She asked us to honor early pioneers like Anna Julia Cooper and Mary Church Terrell, who were the first to claim the mantle of women’s rights.

The lowercase name Bell Hooks, published at , challenged a system of academic writing that historically disparaged and ignored the work of black scholars. She also used language as simple and clear as her politics. While her writing was deeply personal, often carved from her own experiences, her ideas were unrelentingly rigorous and filled with quotations — though she eschewed footnotes, another rejection of Academy standards that endeared her to those of us who were determined intellectuals Reinventing traditions they denied our whole humanity.

The rejection of footnotes seemed to symbolize the fact that the most valued hooks of knowledge would not fit in those tiny gaps. Her style of writing suggested that her ideas were always broader than even her books could capture. Although there were no footnotes, her books were love letters to a people who loved her dearly.

No matter where she taught or lived, Bell Hooks always kept Kentucky and her family ties close. She frequently claimed her Southern black working-class background and an abiding love for her homeland. Although educated in prestigious schools, she always spoke with the wisdom and wit of our mothers, grandmothers and aunts. Her return to the Bluegrass State and Berea College towards the end of her career she has a narrative elegance. A generation of feminists has lost a fundamental figure and a beloved icon, but their legacy lives on in their writing that will provide nourishment for generations to come.

Lisa B Thompson is a playwright and Bobby and Sherri Patton Professor of African & African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Follow her @drlisabthompson on Twitter and Instagram.

Copyright NPR 2022.