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Spelman College Celebrates the Brilliance of Literary Legend bell hooks

December 2021

Spelman College celebrates bell hooks

American author, professor, feminist, and social activist  bell hooks, née, Gloria Jean Watkins, had a monumental impact upon the Spelman College community and we join in solidarity with individuals around the world to mourn her loss and celebrate her genius. Born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, hooks died of kidney failure at the age of 69 on Dec. 15, 2021.

In her writings, hooks focused on the intersectionality of race, capitalism and gender; and she placed a heavy emphasis on what she described as their ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and class domination. She published 40 books and numerous scholarly articles, appeared in documentary films, and participated in public lectures. In 2014, she founded the bell hooks Institute at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky. In 2017, she dedicated her papers to Berea College, ensuring that future generations of Bereans will know her work and the impact she had on the intersections of race, gender, place, class and sexuality. The following year, she was inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.

President Mary Schmidt Campbell Remembers . . .

bell hooks remembered by Spelman President Mary Schmidt Campbell"The academy is not paradise. But learning is a place where paradise can be created.  The classroom, with all its limitations, remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility, we have the opportunity to labor for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries to transgress.  This is education as the practice of freedom.”  bell hooks, "Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom," 1994

Unlike Dr. Guy-Sheftall, I did not have the privilege of knowing bell hooks personally, but her words and thoughts became invaluable companions for me, as I embarked on my own intellectual journey.

I first met bell hooks, when I was at New York University. She was a speaker at a Pan-African Film Festival, we organized at NYU and I remember then the bold, direct way with which she delivered her unadorned truth to the audience. Years later, as I was writing a biography of the Black artist, Romare Bearden and trying to untangle his shifting relationship to race and art, bell hooks’s writing on "American visual politics,” as she coined the phrase, were a luminous guide. Her insight that all seeing takes place within a political frame remains a sturdy truth.

My memory of bell hooks is of someone who produced sturdy truths over and over in the 40 books she wrote, in her lectures, in the way she chose to live her life.  The sturdiest of those truths are those observations she made about love. One of my favorite quotes by her is the following:

blue-quote-leftThe moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination against oppression. The moment, we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and other.”

A Spelman Celebration of Remembrance

On Jan. 20, 2021, (if the never-ending COVID pandemic does not deter us), the College will devote its opening convocation to a celebration of the life of bell hooks, and we encourage those who know and love her work to spend the opening weeks of the semester sharing with each other her wisdom and her truths in whatever ways we see fit.

With sorrow for the loss of a national treasure,

Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D.
Spelman College President

No Stranger to Spelman College

Gloria Steinem bell hooks

A feminist icon, hooks was invited by Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Ph.D., C’66, director, Women's Research and Resource Center, and Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women's Studies, to campus on numerous occasions because of her long-time relationship with the Women's Center as a National Advisory Board Member and her commitment to engage young women about ongoing struggles against all oppressions.

In 2015, the Women’s Research and Resource Center hosted a conversation with hooks and women’s rights activist and journalist Gloria Steinem. The two renowned pioneers in the gender equality movement, discussed feminism and their literary careers with a standing-room only audience of students, scholars and activists. 

Steinem, co-founder of Ms. magazine, and hooks, author of “Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice,” also joined forces at Spelman in 2010 for a conversation where they discussed religion, financial freedom and the intersection of class, race and sex.

Black feminist anthropologist Erica Lorraine Williams, Ph.D., assistant professor of anthropology at Spelman, wrote a blog post for Ms. magazine highlighting a few gems she received from hooks' 2010 talk. The nuggets of truth taken directly from Williams' article still ring loudly to us today -- especially today:

1. Be well

"hooks stressed the need for everyone to aspire to 'optimal well-being.' This may mean waking up to meditation, spiritual readings or writing (hooks does all three every day), or simply laughing with others (something hooks and Steinem both emphasized).

2. Save, and give

The thing hooks liked the most about her life is thatshe achieved economic self-sufficiency by balancing her finances:

"I don’t live beyond my means. I’m not a slave to capitalist consumerism. I feel a sense of freedom at being in control of my life.

Financial freedom is also about having the ability to help others, she stresses, and everybody has something they can give:

Every time we give, we move against domination and towards love. Love is the practice of giving."

As we reflect upon hooks' legacy of light and love, the Spelman Community takes solace in her words and continues to commit to our strong sense of community as we heal. 

blue-quote-left Rarely, if ever, are any of us healed in isolation. Healing is an act of communion.- bell hooks, from her 1999 classic, "All About Love."

Dancing to the Beat of bell's Drums

Dance Performance and Choreography Image 2017The Spelman Department of Dance Performance and Choreography has chosen a unique approach to teaching the next generation of dancers, choreographers and change makers by accentuating Black feminist theory. As a result of integrating the works of notable Black feminist writers and activists such as bell hooks and Audre Lorde throughout the curriculum, the department is cultivating freethinkers and intelligent movers interested in becoming influential creators, writers, historians, educators and scholars within the evolving field of dance.

As women who have explored the Black female experience, the writings of hooks and Lorde are dissected, analyzed and interpreted through movement. "We emphasize Black feminist theory because we want our students to be well informed about their identities and have an anchor about who they are as women of the African Diaspora," said T. Lang, former department chair and associate professor. "It is our hope [as faculty] that our students craft works that offer different perspectives and express the multiplicity of their stories."

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