Top Picks: bell hooks

Fourteen years before Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie hit the bestseller list with We Should All Be Feminists, author bell hooks* paved the way with Feminism is for Everybody.

Hooks was ahead of her time, as well as prolific. The author, activist, professor, cultural critic and poet wrote more than 30 books, often on the intersectionality of feminism, racism and class. Here are our top picks by the author Time Magazine called a "rare rock star of a public intellectual." 

In Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, hooks writes: "Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression." This slim, accessible introduction to feminism includes chapters on consciousness-raising, reproductive rights, feminist parenting and more. First published in 2000, it's also a portrait of feminism at the close of the 20th century.

In Ain't I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism, whose title is borrowed from Sojourner Truth's 1851 speech, hooks explores the oppression of Black women from slavery through the 1970s and the need for an inclusive feminism. Published in 1981, the book was groundbreaking in its critique of racism within the feminist movement and the ways in which the movement ignored the experiences of working class and Black women.

Like James Baldwin, whom she admired, hooks was unafraid to write about love. I'd be remiss if I didn't include All About Love: New Visions, possibly her most popular book, in which she calls for "a return to love." In thirteen chapters she addresses honesty, commitment and romance, among other subjects. Memorable quote: "The word 'love' is most often defined as a noun, yet we would all love better if we used it as a verb."

Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics, presents a nice mix of her writing. I was especially moved by "Homeplace," which documents the importance of home as "a site of resistance" to white supremacy. The essay also serves as a tribute to her mother, who worked "to create a homeplace that affirmed our beings, our blackness, our love for one another... " The collection has the added bonus of a conversation between hooks and author/professor Dr. Cornel West, rounded off with two chapters in which the author interviews herself.

Literature lovers should check out Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work, which illuminates hooks's writing life and the authors who meant the world to her, including Zora Neale Hurston, Emily Dickinson and Lorraine Hansberry. On the importance of the latter, hooks wrote: "Even though I knew as a girl that I wanted to be a writer, it took years for me to discover a black woman writer whose life and work inspired me and affirmed my aspirations."

Thankfully, girls today have bell hooks, among many other writers, to inspire them to write and in whom they can see reflections of themselves and their possibilities.

*Born Gloria Jean Watkins, the author took the pen name bell hooks to honor her maternal great-grandmother, and she chose not to capitalize it.

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