The GSF community pays tribute to bell hooks

bell hooks portrait with orange and yellow tulips
We would like to honor the life of bell hooks, and to mark our collective indebtedness to her brilliance.
Ain’t I a Woman was the first feminist book that I ever read. I remember freshman year in college, bell hooks’s words forced me to think about the ways that racism and sexism were interconnected and, more than anything else, her hope inspired me to become an activist. In the decades since I first encountered her work, my understanding of her intervention has become much more profound, and she has continued to inspire me to connect my theoretical interventions with the everyday of the political struggle.
~  Pete Sigal, Professor of History, Director of Graduate Studies GSF
 
bell hooks: feminist theorist, freedom fighter, poet, public intellectual, writer, teacher.  The field that I call home- black feminist studies- was made possible by her visionary work. From hooks, I learned that a curious mind works steadily, that a thinker’s calling is to keep thinking, writing, creating.  As I look at my bookshelf now, I am reminded of how much hooks has given feminist studies: she taught us how to think about black spectatorship.  She helped us understand the beauty of black homeplaces.  She argued that loving blackness was a form of political resistance.  And she insisted on engaged pedagogy as a practice of freedom.  This is a too-small tribute to her vast body of work that always taught us the urgency of love in political struggle, and the necessity of continuing to dream of other worlds.
~  Jennifer C. Nash, Professor of GSF
 
bell hooks is certainly someone whose work (all about love in particular) has been central to my reading and embodiment of love as an interpersonal practice. By centering love, bell hooks has allowed me to think about what it means to move with love in our friendships, with our family members, and even with people we do not even know. 
~  Katherine Gan, GSF undergraduate, class of 2022
 
bell hooks was given to us very early in the game of feminist theory.  In fact, in some ways she predates the whole field. It was that fertile time when white feminists were grappling with the race question, when This Bridge and dozens of other anthologies were was published. hooks belongs to that wonderful, powerful time. We would not be who we are without her. 
~  Kathy Rudy, Professor of GSF
 
bell hooks inspired generations of feminists by giving us a language for making sense of racist and sexist oppression and for imagining a politics of radical love in its promise of freedom. hooks’s writings teach us that theory is not inherently liberatory—it is we who must direct our questioning and theorizing toward liberatory ends.
~  Julien Fischer, PhD Candidate in the Program in Literature, Certificate in Feminist Studies

I can still remember where I was sitting when I first read bell hooks in college.  The clarity and poetics of her writing made it impossible to unsee what she had just shown — particularly about the (yet-unrealized) possibilities of feminism and the imperative to radically reimagine the world we live in.  Looking back now, I see how much of my thinking, writing, and teaching has been inspired by the model she offered.
~  Jocelyn Olcott, Professor of GSF

bell hooks introduced me to Black feminist theory. She put into words what my experiences said to be true. I never met her, but she was my teacher and will continue to teach me through her words.
~  Kelsey Desir, PhD Candidate in English, GSF Certificate
 
Re-reading "Theory as Liberative Practice" today and thinking about the relationship between theory, hurt, death, and healing. Thank you bell hooks for making my work possible.
~  Joseph Winters, Alexander F. Hehmeyer Associate Professor of Religious Studies and African and African American Studies
 
I first encountered bell hooks as an undergraduate in ethnic & women’s studies. Her words, written with a power to outmatch the ‘imperialist white-supremacist capitalist cis-heteropatriarchy’—that influential phrase of hers—distilled the complexity of structural oppression into language that is as familiar as it is transcendent, even as it remains theoretical. She made social transformation feel possible. Years later, and alongside my PhD cohort, I saw her deliver a keynote at my first NWSA. bell hooks guided millennials (and undoubtedly other generations) to and through feminist thought insofar as feminism incites a call-to-action, a life-long devotion to understanding and strategizing how one might know love and liberation in this lifetime. To say bell hooks changed the field of gender, sexuality, and feminist studies means, quite simply, that without her, so many of us would not be here, carrying on in the pursuit that she so eloquently called “teaching to transgress.” This is an immeasurable loss made a little less unbearable only because her work continues to make so much feel possible. 
~  Anna Storti, Assistant Professor of GSF
 
For people of my generation there is no feminism and no feminist theory without bell hooks and her field changing 1984 book  From Margin to Center.  Her themes race, sisterhood, power, work, education, violence, parenting, revolution were interwoven by an insistence that we not give up on the necessity of struggling with the struggle. She wrote so that we could keep hearing the message. We can honor her life by continuing to listen.
~  Robyn Wiegman, Professor of Literature & GSF
 
The passing of bell hooks at age 69 is a significant loss. Her work is central to Black feminist thought and emblematizes its political and pedagogical aspirations. I actually can’t remember a time when I wasn’t teaching a text by hooks. Her argument that “feminism is for everybody” is capacious and inspiring, and for anyone working in visual studies, hooks’ “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators” (1992) is indispensable. It’s a thoughtful examination of the gaze as a site through which race and gender oppression are both internalized and transformed. As hooks argues, the viewing practices of Black women encountering and resisting a visual world that “constructs [their] presence as absence” are key to that transformation (118). Perhaps above all else, I value hooks for her commitment to writing as a way to say what cannot be said. This commitment runs throughout her oeuvre, but “talking back” (1989) is an essay in which she writes about repressive silences directly. I’ll never forget the first time I read this essay in which she states that she “wanted writing to be [her] life work since childhood” (8). The concluding paragraphs are stunners. In them, she explains why she took the pseudonym “bell hooks”: it is the name of her great-grandmother, “a sharp-tongued woman, a woman who spoke her mind, a woman who was not afraid to talk back” (9). It is hard to talk back to racism and sexism, but swallowing their impact takes a toll. hooks shows us that writing defies silence and alleviates some of its violence.
~  Kimberly Lamm, Associate Professor of GSF