Lessons in love from feminist icons

bell hooks died yesterday.

She was a pioneering Black feminist and pushed the conversation on women’s rights to include Black women’s rights.

I can’t think about bell hooks without thinking about Sister Nancy Hynes and the other Sisters in the English Department a the College of St. Benedict. I’ve often said I learned feminism from the sisters. And I first learned about Black feminists from S. Nancy.

Her class on Alice Walker and Toni Morrison showed me how story telling builds understanding and empathy, about the limits of my own lived experience and the need to see more lives. To look at social justice through more lenses. To think critically about systems of power and the way things have always been.

I took that class more than 20 years, ago, but those writers live in me, thanks to S. Nancy. When I slip into thinking people are quaint or don’t recognize their full humanity, I hear Alice Walker’s line from Merdian: “‘I will pay for this,’ she often warned herself. ‘It is probably a sin to think of people as art.'”

I know, you thought you were getting a post about bell hooks, and I made it about S. Nancy. I hope Ms. Hooks will forgive me. I wouldn’t have known of her without S. Nancy. And here’s something amazing: they died on the same day, 13 years apart. So that feels like permission to connect them. I’m grateful for the work bell hooks put into the world, and I’m grateful for teachers like S. Nancy, who put her work into my hands.

How lucky I was to grow up intellectually, in that environment. Of radical Sisters who questioned everything and went to protests and held me to a high standard as I assessed the world.

This is a blog about love. What bell hooks and my college English department and the writers they chose taught me is this: Love asks a lot of questions. Love doesn’t settle for easy comfort. Love looks at the hard stuff and says, “Okay, let’s sit with this and then see where it takes us.” Love calls us to action.

This is a blog about Father Clay, too. But I think he’ll understand when I let bell hooks star in this post. Here’s an excerpt from an interview hooks gave NPR in 2000, about the transformative power of love.

Great movements are rooted in love

In a 2000 interview with All Things Considered, hooks spoke about the life-changing power of love — that is, the act of loving and how love is far broader than romantic sentiment. “I’m talking about a love that is transformative, that challenges us in both our private and our civic lives,” she said. “I’m so moved often when I think of the civil rights movement, because I see it as a great movement for social justice that was rooted in love and that politicized the notion of love, that said: Real love will change you.”

She went on: “Everywhere I go, people want to feel more connected. They want to feel more connected to their neighbors. They want to feel more connected to the world. And when we learn that through love we can have that connection, we can see the stranger as ourselves. And I think that it would be absolutely fantastic to have that sense of ‘Let’s return to kind of a utopian focus on love, not unlike the sort of hippie focus on love.’ Because I always say to people, you know, the ’60s’ focus on love had its stupid sentimental dimensions, but then it had these life-transforming dimensions. When I think of the love of justice that led three young people, two Jews and one African American Christian, to go to the South and fight for justice and give their lives — Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner — I think that’s a quality of love that’s awesome. … I tell this to young people, you know, that we can love in a deep and profound way that transforms the political world in which we live in.”

Excerpt from Trailblazing feminist author, critic and activist bell hooks has died at 69

3 thoughts on “Lessons in love from feminist icons

  1. Thank you for connecting S. Nancy and bell hooks. It sounds like they would have enjoyed getting together for a cup of coffee and a session on how love makes our world grow :). mary lynne


  2. Katie, I’m just getting to this post today, and I love it. You very articulately and carefully honored both bell hooks and Sr. Nancy. I felt enriched by reading and remembering. It sounds like you had a very life-giving and positive formative experience at your college.


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