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Writing Guide with Handbook

16.2 Textual Analysis Trailblazer: bell hooks

Writing Guide with Handbook16.2 Textual Analysis Trailblazer: bell hooks

Textual Analysis Trailblazer: bell hooks

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Demonstrate critical thinking and communicating in varying rhetorical and cultural contexts.
  • Integrate the writer’s ideas with ideas of others.
Gloria Jean Watkins, better known by her pen name bell hooks, is an American author, professor, feminist, and social activist.
Figure 16.2 bell hooks (credit: “Bellhooks” by Cmongirl/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

“Writing and performing should deepen the meaning of words, should illuminate, transfix, and transform.”

Talking Back

Born Gloria Jean Watkins, bell hooks adopted the name of her great-grandmother, a woman known for speaking her mind. In choosing this pen name, hooks decided not to capitalize the first letters so that audiences would focus on her work rather than her name. However, this stylistic choice has become as memorable as her work.

She is well known for her approach to social critique through textual analysis. The writing interests and research methods hooks uses are wide ranging. They began in poetry and fiction writing and eventually developed into critical analysis. She started writing at an early age, as her teachers (in the church) impressed on hooks the power in language. With this exposure to language, hooks began to understand the “sacredness of words” and began to write poetry and fiction. Over time, hooks’s writing became more focused on advancing and reviving the texts of Black women and women of color, for even though “black women and women of color are publishing more… there is still not enough” writing by and about them. Texts live on through others’ analyses, hooks argues. Therefore, she believes the critical essay “is the most useful form for the expression” between her thoughts and the books she is reading. The critical essay allows hooks to create a dialogue, or “talk back” to the text. The critical essay also extends “the conversations I have with other critical thinkers.” It is this “talking back” that has advanced hooks’s approach to literary criticism. This action, for which hooks eventually named a volume of essays, refers to the development of a strong sense of self that allows Black women to speak out against racism and sexism.

Although young hooks continued to write poetry—some of which was published—she gained a reputation as a writer of critical essays about systems of domination. She began writing her first book, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, when she was 19 and an undergraduate student at Stanford University. The book is titled after Sojourner Truth’s (1797–1883) Ain’t I a Woman” speech given at the Woman’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851. In this work, hooks examines the effects of racism and sexism on Black women, the civil rights movement, and feminist movements from suffrage to the 1970s. By “talking back” to formerly enslaved abolitionist Sojourner Truth throughout, hooks identifies ways in which feminist movements have failed to focus on Black women and women of color. This work is one of many in which thorough analysis “uncovered” the lived experiences of Black women and women of color.

Discussion Questions

1 .
What are your thoughts about hooks’s approach to analysis through “talking back” to a text? What might this approach look like in an essay or text: how might you “talk back”?
2 .
What purpose does hooks’s approach to entering into conversation with other critical thinkers through critical analysis serve?
3 .
Much of hooks’s work is based on her goal of “reviving” and “uncovering” historically marginalized women’s voices. In what ways does critical analysis highlight the work of others?
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