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Arts & Culture

bell hooks’ writing was ‘water’: Local figures share their take on her legacy

Author and cultural critic bell hooks poses for a portrait on December 16, 1996, in New York City, New York.
Karjean Levine
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Author and cultural critic bell hooks poses for a portrait Dec. 16, 1996, in New York City.

Several literary giants died in December, including cultural critic Greg Tate, 64, and, most recently, Joan Didion, 87.

Another writer and critic died this month: bell hooks. She was 69.

I remember my first time reading bell hooks, an article called 'Eating the Other'. I was a student at the University of Washington, and I had never encountered an academic text that was so understandable and intimate. She used personal experiences to talk about very abstract concepts. I didn't know you could do that as a respected academic.

“That's the way that she really challenged the academy,” said UW Indigenous studies professor Miranda Belarde-Lewis. “The academy makes you believe that you need to be able to speak in this jargon and that you need to be able to use these giant words that you need to have these big giant concepts that only you and 10 other people in the country understand. If that's the case, then what's the point?”

Belarde-Lewis, who is Zuni and Tlingit, introduced me to hooks.

Even though hooks wrote so clearly from her perspective as a Black woman, her work has something for everyone, Belarde-Lewis said.

“I hope that by introducing her work to my students that they find language that they didn't have before to describe something that they know and they feel or they see.”

hooks opened intellectual doors for Seattle writer and musician Gabriel Teodros, too. He described hooks' writing as being able to excavate trauma and exorcise demons and abuse.

Reading All About Love got him and other men of color to redefine masculinity, Teodros said.

“At the time that I read that book, it felt like I was in a desert and I didn’t even know,” Teodros said. “I was, like, dying of thirst, and it felt like that that book was water and I needed more.”

For many, losing writers feels particularly painful. Maybe that's because reading is something most people do alone.

“So it's like you're having long one-on-one conversations with these people that last weeks, months, years. And a lot of writers, some of the best writers, bring out the most personal, vulnerable parts of themselves to their work, and you really connect to it,” Teodros said.

hooks wrote more than 30 books on everything from gender to geography.

We connected to her, and through her, learned to connect to each other.

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