bell hooks

Feminist fervor

She rises at 4 or 5 a.m., prays and meditates, and then tries to read a nonfiction book each day. It’s part of an almost athletic preparation as an intellectual and author who wrestles with the issues of race, feminism and love.

bell hooks MA1976, a well-known social critic, wrote the first of her more than 30 books at age 19 and has been a provocateur ever since.

“I think of public intellectuals as very different, because I think that they’re airing their work for that public engagement,” hooks told the New York Times. “Really, in all the years of my writing that was not my intention. It was to produce theory that people could use.”

hooks — whose given name is Gloria Jean Watkins but who adopted the lower-case pseudonym — wrote that first book, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism as an undergraduate at Stanford University, before coming to UW–Madison to earn a master’s in English literature in 1976 and a PhD at the University of California–Santa Cruz.

In that acclaimed work, hooks says that sisterhood must encompass growth and change. “The process begins with the individual woman’s acceptance that American women, without exception, are socialized to be racist, classist and sexist, in varying degrees, and that labeling ourselves feminists does not change the fact that we must consciously work to rid ourselves of the legacy of negative socialization,” she writes.

From The Park

Critical thinking and radical openness empower us to have empathy and compassion—they create a foundation for community.

Source: Used by permission of copyright holder. On, Wisconsin Article, Summer 2009

hooks says she worries about what she calls censorship of the imagination.

“When I look at my career as a thinker and a writer, what is so amazing is that I have a dissenting voice and that I was able to come into corporate publishing and bring that dissenting voice with me,” says hooks.

She has criticized often-admired African-American figures including Spike Lee and Beyoncé, and she has written about the nature of love, bringing a fervor to her work.

“I am passionate about everything in my life — first and foremost, passionate about ideas,” she says. “And that’s a dangerous person to be in this society, not because I’m a woman, but because it’s such a fundamentally anti-intellectual, anti-critical-thinking society.”

In this video, hooks discusses her work, freedom of expression and social criticism.