yearofbellhookswidth210This year the students of Wisconsin’s St. Norbert College have the privilege of bona fide enlightenment as their Cassandra Voss Center is offering a “year of bell hooks” – a program commemorating the remarkable intellectual, feminist, author and social justice activist.

The dynamic bell hooks was born Gloria Jean Watkins in Hopkinsville, KY in 1952. It’s been said the significance of lowercase letters in her nom de plume was to distinguish herself from her great grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks, as well as to distance herself from the inflated ego often associated with names. hooks has influenced generations with her insight and unique presentation of cultural contemporary issues. Wikipedia elucidates:

Her writing has focused on the interconnectivity of race, capitalism and gender what she describes as their ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and class domination. She has published over thirty books and numerous scholarly and mainstream articles, appeared in several documentary films and participated in various public lectures. Primarily through a postmodern perspective, a hook has addressed race, class, and gender in education, art, history, sexuality, mass media and feminism.

In 1973 bell hooks earned a B.A. in English from Stanford, and her M.A. in English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in ’76. Seven years later, she graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a Ph.D. in literature. Ms. hooks has taught at a number of colleges and universities including University of California, Santa Cruz, San Francisco State University, Oberlin College and Yale.

The celebrated scholar has written scores of articles, critiques, essays and books. Her most notable works are Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism, We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity, All About Love: New Visions & Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. Her critiques of media & modern society are raw poignant, for example, hooks sharp analysis, “Madonna: Plantation or Soul Sister?”  or more recently, her critique of the film Beasts of the Southern Wild, aptly titled, No Love In The Wild (Spoiler Alert!):

“…leaving a viewing of the film Beasts of the Southern Wilds [I was] deeply disturbed and militantly outraged by the images I have just seen… there were images in the movie that I just did not want inside my head.  Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn tells students that putting images inside our heads is just like eating. And if “you are what you eat” it is equally true that to a grave extent we are what we see. Having read wonderful reviews of the film, pushed by friends and colleagues alike to see it, I was amazed that what I saw, they did not see. In his long affirming review in the New Yorker critic David Denby praises the film, calling it a “vibrant feature.”    

“Sadly, all the vibrancy in this film is generated by a crude pornography of violence. At the center of this spectacle is the continuous physical and emotional violation of the body and being of a small six year old black girl called Hushpuppy (played by the ten year old actress Quzenhane Wallis). While she is portrayed as continuously resisting and refusing to be a victim, she is victimized. Subject to both romanticization as a modern primitive and eroticization, her plight is presented as comically farcical.” 

“No wonder then that seeing this film causes some of us to feel a deep sense of hurt and remembered pain.  Sorrow for all the lost traumatized children, but especially abused and abandoned black children, whose bodies become the playing fields where pornographies of violence are hidden behind romantic evocations of mythic union and reunion with nature. In the end there is no one to lift these small bodies up, to call down from the skies a healing grace that can redeem and set free… For Hushpuppy and those like her, there is no love, no hands holding on, just a blank emptiness onto which any mark can be placed, any fantastical story written. All along the way Hushpuppy has not been at the center of Beasts of the Southern Wild. She is marginalized; she is a backup singer. No wonder then, so few listeners fail to choose a standpoint where they might witness her suffering or hear her ongoing anguished lament, “hooks concludes.

The close of St. Norbert’s “year of bell hooks” will be marked by her visit to the college from April-15-17. The renowned activist/academic who recently held a riveting discussion with Melissa Harris-Perry is a Distinguished Professor in Residence in Appalachian Studies at Berea College.

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