The audience would have been well-served to hear bell hooks’ advice — to wake up earlier — before attending her reading at the Macalester Plymouth Church in St. Paul.
Hundreds of people fought for space in and out of every door of the Macalester College church to hear the soft-spoken, feminist writer and intellectual read from her new book, “Remembered Rapture,” on Friday night. Following an interview on Minnesota Public Radio, hooks’ reading was the last stop on her U.S. poetry tour.
Once known as Gloria Watkins, hooks grew up in Kentucky. She chose her new name to honor her grandmother; she then chose to decapitalize it as a political statement — to reclaim her own voice and identity.
Both decisions to change her name attempt to put the focus on her work, rather than the author herself.
Her newest book focuses mainly on the women’s movement, the politics of writing, and the fundamental nature of writing. Excerpts from the book included a memory from her childhood, in which hooks befriends a white girl from “the other side of the tracks.”
The two girls travel together on “a road where we can love each other, regardless of color.” This line is reminiscent of many of hooks’ sentiments about America today, in which she believes “a lovelessness, a hardening of the heart in our culture” exists.
She began the night with a question many people ask of her: the reason why she writes so much. Her answer came in the words of one of the first feminists, Virginia Woolf. Woolf, in her book “A Room of One’s Own,” encouraged women to “write all kinds of books … to write we must ever resist.”
In addition to this, hooks commented that “no one ever asks Michael Jordan, ‘Why do you play basketball so much?’ or John Coltrane, ‘Why do you play the saxophone so much?'”
Leaning over a podium normally used by Christian ministers, hooks, who studies Buddhist thought, emphasized the importance of including women — particularly black women — into a canon that “the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” has previously dominated.
Later, in response to questions posed by the audience, hooks entered into a dialogue about the negative effect academia can have in the life of an intellectual. According to hooks, revolutionary thought, like the ideas she holds, can be hindered by spending too much time in a conservative environment.
“A vast majority of critical thinkers are in universities, and universities are conservative,” hooks said. “When one is housed in an institution, one feels that they must speak for the institution.”
Further, in her book “Killing Rage,” hooks writes, “The heart of intellectual work is critical engagement with ideas. Even though an exchange of ideas can and does take place in a communal context, there is necessarily a private solitary dimension to intellectual work.”
Despite this view, hooks is a distinguished professor of English at the City College of New York. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Stanford University in 1973; a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1976; and her Ph.D. at the University of California-Santa Cruz in 1983. She has written 16 books that deal with social issues that plague black women as well as critique popular culture.
“She’s telling the truth,” said Toyin Adebanjo, a junior in African studies at the University. “She’s not beating around the bush. She’s critiquing men, critiquing women — she’s critiquing herself. She’s being honest about herself. That’s where you have to start.”