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bell hooks

Renee Shaw talks with feminist scholar Dr. bell hooks, author of more than 30 books on issues such as social class, gender and race. They discuss her postmodern view of feminism and race, her return to Kentucky, her latest book "Belonging: A Culture of Place" and her work at Berea College. This episode originally aired in 2008.
Season 4 Episode 1 Length 28:01 Premiere: 12/19/21

Renowned Author and Scholar Reflects on Her Kentucky Upbringing and Influence on Feminism

Growing up in Christian County in the 1950s and ’60s, Gloria Jean Watkins reveled in the calls of birds, the nearby fields of tobacco, and the love of multiple generations of family. But the bookish girl also knew she wanted a bigger life than a Black female from a working-class family in a segregated southern town could typically expect in those days.

“I wanted to be an intellectual, a thinker, a writer [and] that went against so much of the grain of how I was raised, she says.

From that youthful determination came one of the most influential authors and cultural critics of the last half century, a woman whose more than 30 books were published in 15 languages and explored gender, race, and class through the lenses of history, spirituality, and community.

Each of those books featured not her birth name, but the pen name of bell hooks – the name of her maternal great grandmother, a woman who also had a reputation in the family for strong and powerful speech.

“A lot of my using the name bell hooks has to do with calling forth those female ancestors with whom we have had that connection that actually live through us in a kind of psycho-history,” says hooks. “I think that that’s so crucial that we claim those ancestors.”

bell hooks reflected on her life and career in a 2008 interview on KET’s Connections. The Hopkinsville native and Berea College Distinguished Professor in Residence in Appalachian Studies died on December 15, 2021, at the age of 69.

Pushing the Boundaries of Feminism

The young girl with big dreams knew shew was going against southern tradition that said Christian women should remain largely silent. But hooks says she was fortunate to have a father who enjoyed reading and mother who wanted her daughters to be educated so they wouldn’t have to rely on any man. She also saw the long-term commitment that her parents and her grandparents shared across more than 60 years of their respective marriages.

“They were fine, disciplined examples of the aspects of love, of care, and commitment,” says hooks. “These two marriages lasted so long precisely because they took place in the context of community.”

Her academic journey took hooks from the then-segregated schools of Christian County to Stanford University in the 1970s. A master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin and a doctorate at the University of California, Santa Cruz soon followed. hooks says leaving a country town for the big city is an archetypal American journey.

“The great thing about being from the country and the small town is that you can go out and have a wider experience, but you also had the deep and profound experience of growing up in a small community where people care for one another,” she says.

While still an undergraduate, hooks began writing “Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism,” which would be published in 1981. (The title comes from a speech by abolitionist Sojourner Truth.) The now-classic work explored the double whammy of racism and sexism that Black women historically endured. In the process hooks argued that feminism should embrace a wider range of people and life experiences.

“Feminism is for everybody,” she says. “I think any genuine feminism really is about wholeness and self-love for women and men.”

hooks continued to explore these themes in her subsequent books of essays, poetry, and other writings. Each one continued to bear the name of her great-grandmother written in lower case letters so, as hooks explains, readers would focus on the content of her work, not the person who wrote it.

As her intellectual star continued to rise, hooks lectured at prestigious schools across the country, from Yale University, to Ohio State University, to San Francisco State University.

But the pull of home never left hooks, who continued to visit family in Hopkinsville at least once a year. And while she may not have been labelled a Kentucky writer, hooks says her upbringing here always influenced her work.

“All the writing I’ve done and currently do has the particular flavor of my growing up in rural Kentucky hills as a child,” she says.

As a student, hooks says she was taught that bringing too much of her Kentucky life to her work would label her as a local writer and not someone whose books would have universal appeal. She says Wendell Berry proved that doesn’t have to be the case.

“Those old ways of thinking about geography don’t determine a writer’s fate as much as they used to,” says hooks.

The Pull to Return Home

Like Wendell Berry, hooks left Kentucky to study and work in California and New York. And like Berry, hooks made the decision to return to her native state to live.

“He’s been a role model for me and other Black folks returning to the south from the north,” she says.

hooks landed at Berea College in 2004, where she says she felt an affinity with the students, who, like her, largely hail from rural, working-class roots. She says she also felt at home in the small community at edge of the Appalachian Mountains.

“I just feel a tremendous sense of blessing that I can be in Berea, Ky., where so many people are committed to peace and justice and sharing of resources, of community in its very best sense of the word,” she says.

The move did not come without some reflection, though. hooks says she remembered the discrimination she experienced growing up in Kentucky. But she realized that as racism and white supremacy rose across America, Kentucky no longer felt like an outlier to be avoided, especially when there were so many other things she loved about the state. She also wanted to provide an example to young Kentuckians that they don’t have to leave the commonwealth to pursue an intellectual life and career. And while her Manhattan friends questioned her decision to come home, hooks says it was the right choice for her to return to the values and landscapes of her youth.

“Part of why I wanted to come back home is that my Kentucky roots are really what made me who I am, and it’s the values that I grew up with,” she says. “I wanted to be back in a world where those values really matter.”

hooks explored the ideas of home, community, and stewardship in her 2008 book “Belonging: A Culture of Place.” In calling for a more sustainable approach to living, hooks recalled her African-American ancestors who were deeply connected to the land they worked.

“This is our history that people are forgetting,” says hooks. “Image what our world would look like if Black people were coming back to their agrarian roots and growing their own food and being engaged in local food production.”

Sitting on the porch of her home in the hills outside of Berea, hooks says she loves to close her eyes and listen to the sounds of nature around her. That’s just what young Gloria Jean Watkins did with her siblings when they were kids in western Kentucky. Now for bell hooks, it’s part of closing the circle on her own journey from the small town to the big cities and back to a small town.

“I’m a seeker on a spiritual path because I feel that it’s that spiritual grounding of my being that has sustained me, and buoyed me, and made me who I am,” says hooks. “I plan on staying here until I die.”

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Host Dr. Wayne Tuckson in a dark shirt and gray jacket on the program set with a "Check Schedule" button.Host Dr. Wayne Tuckson in a dark shirt and gray jacket on the program set with a "Check Schedule" button.

Season 4 Episodes

bell hooks

S4 E1 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 12/19/21

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Premiered On: 08/14/2015

Renee talks with transgender activist JoAnne Wheeler Bland, who in her sixties transitioned from male to female. A practicing attorney for more than 40 years, she is a former Special Justice on the Kentucky Supreme Court, former Vice-President of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, current member of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education's Committee on Equal Opportunity (the Diversity Committee), and guest speaker at Women's and Gender Studies programs at Kentucky universities.

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Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk

Premiered On: 09/11/2015

Renee Shaw interviews new Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk, who talks about his experiences in public education and his goals for the district.

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The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia - Gerald Smith

Premiered On: 09/18/2015

Renee's guest is Dr. Gerald Smith, an author and history professor at the University of Kentucky, and co-editor of "The Kentucky African-American Encyclopedia: Life and Culture in the Commonwealth". The reference book contains entries on the individuals, events, places, organizations, movements, and institutions that helped shape the state's history and cultural diversity.

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September is childhood cancer awareness month. Renee talks with survivors and parents about their experiences and the research on the rare maladies striking youth.

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Kellie Blair Hardt

Premiered On: 10/02/2015

Renee speaks with special education teacher Kellie Blair Hardt, who overcame homelessness, an absent mother, an alcoholic father and school expulsion to earn her GED. She received the National Education Association Foundation's 2013 Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence as one of the nation's top educators. Hardt is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in higher education at George Mason University. She was featured in KET's series "Dropping Back In".

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Jacinda Townsend

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Author Jacinda Townsend discusses her critically acclaimed novel, "Saint Monkey", a coming-of-age story set in 1950's Eastern Kentucky. The book won the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for historical fiction. Townsend is a former Hurston-Wright Award finalist and currently teaches creative writing at Indiana University.

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Dorothy Butler Gilliam

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Renee speaks with journalist Dorothy Butler Gilliam, who was the first African-American female reporter at The Washington Post. She retired in 2003 after a 35-year career with the paper.

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Allison Joseph

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Allison Joseph is the author of six poetry books. She teaches at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, where she helped found {Crab Orchard Review}, a literary journal, and the Young Writers Workshop, a co-ed residential summer program for teen writers.

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Miss Kentucky Clark Davis

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Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear

Premiered On: 12/11/2015

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Wayne Lewis

Premiered On: 01/15/2016

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Anthony Smith

Premiered On: 01/22/2016

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Premiered On: 01/29/2016

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A Tribute to Georgia Davis Powers

Premiered On: 02/05/2016

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  • Tuesday September 20, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 20, 2022 2:06 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 20, 2022 1:06 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 20, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 20, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Diabetes Epidemic - S10 E20

  • Monday September 19, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday September 19, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday September 19, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday September 19, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday September 19, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday September 19, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Melynda Jamison - CASA of Lexington - S18 E2

  • Sunday September 25, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday September 25, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday September 24, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday September 24, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday September 18, 2022 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday September 18, 2022 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday September 18, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday September 18, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday September 18, 2022 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday September 18, 2022 11:00 am CT on KET

Mary Gwen Wheeler, 55,000 Degrees - S10 E16

  • Friday September 16, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 16, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday September 16, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 16, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday September 16, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 16, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

15K Degrees Initiative - S10 E13

  • Thursday September 15, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday September 15, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday September 15, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday September 15, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Sister Helen Prejean - S10 E12

  • Wednesday September 14, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 14, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 14, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 14, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Jefferson County Veterans Treatment Court - S10 E11

  • Tuesday September 13, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 13, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 13, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 13, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 13, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 13, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Bill Farmer - S10 E8

  • Monday September 12, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday September 12, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday September 12, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday September 12, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday September 12, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday September 12, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

State Treasurer Allison Ball - S18 E1

  • Sunday September 11, 2022 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday September 11, 2022 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday September 11, 2022 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday September 11, 2022 11:00 am CT on KET

Reporter Jonathan Bullington - S17 E23

  • Sunday September 18, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday September 18, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday September 17, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday September 17, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday September 11, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday September 11, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY

Diane Follingstad - UK Women's Circle Endowment Chair - S10 E6

  • Friday September 9, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 9, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday September 9, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 9, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday September 9, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 9, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Kevin Chapman - S10 E5

  • Thursday September 8, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday September 8, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday September 8, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday September 8, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday September 8, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday September 8, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Soreyda Benedit Begley and Chris Begley - S10 E3

  • Wednesday September 7, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 7, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 7, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 7, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 7, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 7, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Bloggers on Personal Development - S10 E2

  • Tuesday September 6, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 6, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 6, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 6, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 6, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 6, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Chris Rabb - S10 E1

  • Monday September 5, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday September 5, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday September 5, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday September 5, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday September 5, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday September 5, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Nikki Lanier - Harper Slade - S17 E22

  • Sunday September 11, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday September 11, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday September 10, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday September 10, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday September 4, 2022 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday September 4, 2022 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday September 4, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday September 4, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday September 4, 2022 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday September 4, 2022 11:00 am CT on KET

Delanor Manson - Kentucky Nurses Association - S17 E36

  • Sunday September 4, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday September 4, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY

Tanya Torp and Holly Houston - S9 E46

  • Friday September 2, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 2, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday September 2, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 2, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday September 2, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 2, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Frontier Nursing University - S9 E45

  • Thursday September 1, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday September 1, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday September 1, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday September 1, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday September 1, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday September 1, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

SWAG - Sisters and Supporters Working Against Gun Violence - S9 E44

  • Wednesday August 31, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday August 31, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday August 31, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday August 31, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday August 31, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday August 31, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Marta Miranda - S9 E43

  • Tuesday August 30, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 30, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 30, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 30, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 30, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 30, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Judi Jennings - S9 E42

  • Monday August 29, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 29, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
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