“The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is— it’s to imagine what’s possible.” this quote from bell hooks is unsurprising considering she is a woman who always imagines what is possible in the realms of education, gender, and culture. She imagines more, she imagines better through her teaching and her writing. For her, it is truly about the art. This is why her pen name is written in lowercase letters; she wants her work to be about the substance, not her. For a number of decades hooks has been a driving force in the classroom and on paper, firmly situating herself as an influential player in the contemporary history of writing.
Some may disagree, but I believe that her most important contribution to writing as a whole is that of her pedagogy as is demonstrated in her book, Teaching to Transgress. hooks identifies herself as an advocate for holistic education. In other words, she truly cares for her students and wants them to grow both in and out of her classroom. As she once wrote “Progressive, holistic education, “engaged pedagogy” is more demanding than conventional critical or feminist pedagogy. For, unlike these two teaching practices, it emphasizes well-being. That means that teachers must be actively involved and committed to a process of self-actualization that promotes their own well-being if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students.” This concept of hers is essential to teaching writing simply because it goes beyond writing itself. She has been calling on educators to be the best people they can be so that they might have the ability to help others become the best people they can be through the experience of taking part in an education that is freeing, rather than constrictive.
Along with her pedagogy, hooks has made invaluable contributions to writing through her feminist theory. Though it was not published until 1981, hooks wrote her first book on feminist theory, Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism while she was still an undergraduate student at Stanford University. Her commentaries on the marginalization of black women, sexism and racism of black women, and the disregard for issues of race and class within feminism have remained relevant nearly four decades later. As she stated here, “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.” She has never been one to shy away from criticism, and her fearlessness in the face of controversy works to show the timeless strength she possesses. Her outspokenness only demonstrates her passion for revolutionizing feminism in the world through written word.
Going hand in hand with her feminist theory is hooks’ thirst for validity of the African American culture. Born Gloria Jean Watkins to a custodian and a stay-at-home mother, hooks experienced segregation first hand as a child. However, she embodies the American Dream in the sense that she views her experience as an empowering one rather than an oppressive one. Using her past as a motivator, over the years she has tirelessly written and spoken on behalf of black women rights. In order to make change, she utilizes one of the greatest skills from her education— the power of communication.
bell hooks: lowercase in name, not in life. She is a woman who has humbled herself in her writing in order to express her pride in education, feminism, and African American culture. Above all, she has found a way to take those beliefs and imagine better, for herself and every life her teaching and writing has touched.