Writing Without Labels

When I was a girl longing to be a writer, the writer whose work most touched my soul, reaching into the innermost places where much within me had gone unrecognized and unloved, was Emily Dickinson. Even though I had my card game Authors, which gave me a visual portrait of her, I never saw her as a white woman. Reading her work I never thought about race or sex. Even though I was stealing away to the privacy of our attic rooms to hold her words close in a real world of racial apartheid that affected my life daily, determining even where I could walk and eat and sit (the colored-only section at the movie theater), when it came to words on the page all this was forgotten. Intuitively, I understood that the persona of the writer was not as important as the words that grip, hold, and transform. I read other women writers. Their work did not speak to me. Clearly, I had not chosen Emily Dickinson because she had been born woman. Her vision resonated with mine. She evoked those emotions I felt but could not talk about with anyone. It was all there in her words.

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bell hooks (née Gloria Jean Watkins) is among the leading public intellectuals of her generation. Her writings cover a broad range of topics including gender, race, teaching, and contemporary culture across the literary genres and include the seminal Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism and, more recently, Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place. She has taught at Yale University, Oberlin College, and the City University of New York, and has served as Distinguished Professor in Residence in Appalachian Studies at Berea College since 2004.

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