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By BETH GLENN
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 29, 2000
Seated on the patio of Einstein's Bagels near her new home in Tampa, hooks talks about that obsession, her other passions (reading a book a day, writing and movies) and her upcoming appearance at the Times Festival of Reading. On Nov. 12, hooks (who shuns capitalization of her name as egotistical) will present her latest works: All About Love: New Visions, Feminism is for Everybody, and Where We Stand: Class Matters, due out in November.
A focus on love, she explains, can inform the way we think and act globally and locally -- even determine where we live.
"I came to Tampa because I have friends here, old old friends, " said hooks, who hails from Hopkinsville, Ky. "I was attracted to Florida because I see myself as a Southerner and my sensibility is Southern and I see myself as a Southern writer. But I like to also be in a world where people think as I do and trying to find that in the South is difficult. Because I had been coming here to visit people who think as I do, I thought, "Why not Tampa?' "
So for the past few months, hooks has risen daily at 5 a.m. in her renovated south Tampa bungalow to pray, meditate and write until the afternoon -- lately of love.
"As the Dalai Lama says in his new book, Ethics for a New Millennium, love is the hardest revolution for us to have. If we could all get into love we could deal with all our racism, class stuff, sexism, feed the hungry -- all that stuff," says hooks.
So this new theme is not really a departure from the earlier works of hard-hitting social critique that have won her an international following, she says.
"People don't understand that the kind of love that I'm writing and talking about is very much a different sense of love than the sentimental romantic love of our culture," she explains.
"Any time you talk about ending domination you're talking about love, and I've been talking about ending domination forever. There's something about love in every one of my books. In Yearning I said I'm interested in the kinds of things that draw people together, the common concerns that people have across race, class, sexual preference, and love is one of those concerns. I think if we start with love we can go to all those other concerns in a different way and in a more productive, constructive way."
Love is especially relevant in today's social climate, says hooks, where personal issues are political. A practicing Buddhist and black feminist, hooks says love's implications are particularly salient for those seeking progressive change nationally and locally.
"This couldn't be a better time in our nation's history to begin to talk about love in a very forthright way," she says, gesturing over a paper coffee cup. "Our problems are all getting worse: the poor are getting poorer, racism and anti-Semitism and white supremacy are on the upsurge everywhere in the globe and we're seeing more ethnic warfare."
The left must be willing to talk about values and issues like love, says hooks, rather than cede discussions of the soul to the right. "If our social movements and movements for social justice are not informed by love, they fail. I still think that the greatest social movement our country has ever known was the civil rights movement and that it was so great, so world transforming, because of its emphasis on an ethic of love."
How can the love ethic play out locally?
"We can all help young people by giving all-out, full-on support for public schools, cherishing our teachers in public school systems and recognizing that the public school system is central to democracy," says hooks. "Every non-democratic country in the world tends to have a hierarchy around school.
"People who love democracy have to understand that we have to love and protect public school. "
But if hooks is seeking to infuse the political dialogue with a love ethic, she also wants to redefine the concept of love itself -- not as a noun or a feeling but as a verb with several components and responsibilities.
"One of the key messages in All About Love is that love is not just about care," she says. "It's a combination of care, knowledge, responsibility, respect and commitment."
She cites the Dalai Lama, former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, parents committed to non-violent discipline and activists like herself as models of such love in action.
And if hooks' contentment with her new home and rigorous writing schedule are any indication, she has truly found her calling, defining love in the service of social justice.
"I see my life as on a spiritual path," says hooks. "I feel I'm doing exactly what Divine Spirit wants me to do, that I'm called to write and write on behalf of healing and justice. I get to write about the things that my heart is really excited about.
"So I feel really lucky."
- Beth Glenn is an editorial writer for the Times.
One of the featured authors at at the Times Fesitval of Reading, bell hooks will speak on the second day of the festival, Sunday, Nov. 12, from 2-3 in Fox Hall.