Hooks' life absolutely depends on writing. In fact, she talks about writing to *avoid death* in many places throughout this collection of essays: there's the confessional writing that she does to avoid suicide early on in her writing life; there's also other more figurative deaths including despair and domination. These two can be overcome in writing by writing works of reconciliation and community, which hooks says she is always trying to do. This is a way of writing that will be most interesting to those among us who are interested in writing as resistance, or with social transformation.
Death seems to stalk black women who write. Hooks points to Audrey Lorde, Toni Cade Bambara, Lorraine Hansberry, and others who died quite young. This is another reason why the writer must use her time deligently: she does not know when her time will be over. It is also a reason to write autobiographical work, so we'll know something about you, the writer, when you're dead. We still know very little about the life of Zora Neal Hurston, hooks says.
You can already see there are many writers about whom hooks thinks. The author's habitus includes: Matthew Fox on spirtuality, Dorothy Allison on growing up poor or working class, Cornel West on race, Tillie Olsen on class, Jeanette Winterson, Ann Petry, Emily Dickenson and more.
From childhood, hooks was eager to write: first poetry and diaries, then fiction, and later the critical non-fiction for which she is so well-known. (Did you know that bell hooks wrote her first book, Ain't I a Woman, when she was nineteen?) She observes that once you are pegged into one genre of writing, say that of the critical essay, it is unlikely that you will be able to cross over into other genres successfully. This is not because you will not be good at different kinds of writing. This is because publishers, critics, and the academy will see you as a writer of critical essays, end of story. Hooks says she revolts against these divides.
This is an example of the kinds of insight hooks offers about the institutional apparatus which surrounds your solitary efforts, even now. I'm not convinced that the world is always as she sees it. I'm also not willing to let what could be the wisdom of experience in the academy and in publishing pass me by without giving it some thought, like: what kind of writing would I like to be associated with? When people see your name in print, do you want people to say, "That's that funny/insightful/bookish/concise/unfathomable poet/scientist/essayist/scholar"?
Here is some of what I learned from hooks in Remembering Rapture, starkly rendered here for the sake of space though they are subtlely offered in the text:
Tips for (women) becoming a (great) writer, gleaned from bell hooks:
>>Write as if you are dying. What better way to make you use your time wisely? Who knows when you will be able to write no more, and you want to leave your trace, don't you?
>>Don't be a bore: essay writing can and should be creative, though it usually is not.
>>Write yourself into the text. From feminism we've learned that writing that does not use the pronoun "I" is not necessarily more objective. Scholarly writing can include "I".
>>It's YOUR story! When writing autobiographical work, or any work that relies on your version of events, remember that the way you remember events will differ from the way other people do (and that's okay!)
>>Don't ruin your mother's life! When writing autobiographical work, or other stories with real people in them, there are ethical questions you must consider in writing about the lives of other people
>> If you are a woman, expect to confront sexism. (Sorry to state the obvious.) Eg. asking women to think about how their writing will affect their children is sexist
>>Teach at a CEGEP (a college, in most juristictions outside Quebec): choose intellectual life over academic careerism (hooks teaches at the oh-so-prestigious City College of New York. Ever hear of it? Me either. But, she chose to work there because she can be a thinker there and at the same time teach young black people, which is important in her own politics.)
>>Get some smart friends. As a writer, you must have much solitary time to contemplate and to work. But you also need to have good conversations to stimulate your creativity.
>>Celebrate words. Choosing the right words is so powerful, as we who work in the mighty field of communication know. For example, hooks does not call herself a "black feminist" because these words participate in legitimizing a separate-but-equal feminism.
>>Show how brilliant you are by articulating your points so that a wide audience can understand them. Don't use language to obscure meaning. The point is not to render ideas less complex - the point is to make the complex clear.
>>Value your audience and know who they are! Who do you speak to? Let them stimulate your writing by communicating with you about things you've said.
>>IF YOU ARE A WOMAN, WRITE! NO WOMAN CAN WRITE TOO MUCH BECAUSE WOMEN HAVE NOT WRITTEN ENOUGH.
I'm still pondering some of the things hooks comes out with in this book, but I defintely like the "throw down" style of it - one that is also in her other essays. ( That's one of the uses that the writer can make of the short essay, says hooks!)
On the point of writing yourself into your work: I'd be willing to bet pecunia to pens and paper that hooks will make you think that you should write a bit of your own autobiography in whatever else you write. I have not been comfortable with this technique, instead adopting a dispassionate authorial voice over material that I have often felt passionate about. Hooks really makes me want to think and write about, as she works to do within her own conditions of living, how being a white woman from a working class background is interwoven with whatever else I choose to study. She asks those who are aspiring to write within academic venues if we're also apiring to betray our roots. Are you writing work that edifies who you are, or who you would like to become? But more about what this has to do with ME when I reflect on my own writing. . .see, this book allows you to reflect.
Finally, if you are a writer, writing should be a pleasure. The craft of writing is hard work, but if you feel that rapture when the work is done and the words are beaming out from the page, perhaps you are a writer after all.