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  • Writer's pictureEvangeline Lawson

Bone Black by bell hooks


I, her problem child, decided out of nowhere that I did not want a white doll to play with, I demanded a brown doll, one that would look like me. Only grown-ups think that the things children say come out of nowhere. We know they come from the deepest parts of ourselves. Deep within myself I had begun to worry that all this loving care we gave to the pink and white flesh-colored dolls meant that somewhere left high on the shelves were boxes of unwanted, unloved brown dolls covered in dust. I thought they would remain there forever, orphaned and alone, unless someone began to want them, to want to give them love and care, to want them more than anything. At first they ignored my wanting. They complained. They pointed out that white dolls were easier to find, cheaper. They never said where they found Baby but I know. She was always there high on the shelf, covered in dust — waiting.

~ Bone Black by bell hooks

At only nine chapters in, I am enjoying how this book presents stories that are relatable. Similarly to the passage above, I found that early childhood memories have quite a bit of overlap across generations and regions. Especially as women. The expectations. Even the toys we played with. But it also is not lost on me, the metaphors and symbolism behind these personal accounts and how they are connected to a broader scope of defining our identities.Thus making us further connected in this culture of womanhood.

Written in narrative style with a childlike innocence, Bone Black is an engaging memoir that details the life of bell hooks. The woman we now know as a pivotal voice in modern feminism, details her life experiences poetically. Sometimes from actual memories but often convoluted with her imagination, Hooks draws us into her life growing up in the South and that which has shaped her to be the woman we know her to be. #womenshistorymonth


As if the fact that Bone Black being written by bell hooks isn't enough, the stories are so relatable. She details experiences that mirror mine and probably many of yours. One story in particular about taking piano lessons stood out. hooks says the following:

When her turn came she would sit in that silent moment of knowing, certain that she would never be Mozart or Beethoven until she heard the sharp tongue of the music teacher, cutting across her back like a whip on the flesh of slaves picking cotton. Hitting a wrong note she thought about their aching backs, their dry throats, the hot sun. She would return again to "Swans on the Lake" as a pencil clicked against her knuckles again and again, until she got it right, until the tears stopped and she played without wonder or feeling the dream song of swans like princesses on water.

She came first at the recital, stiff in her new dress, fearful of hitting the wrong notes, of not fulfilling the promises of well-earned lessons. But when her fingers touched the keys she forgot herself, her failures, and gave her hands the freedom to see swans gliding, the freedom to make beautiful music full of the recognition that she would never play again.

~ Bone Black by bell hooks

The story switches between first and third person narratives, all the while, tracking the growth and evolution of hooks. Her delivery is poetic in the stories she tells about her childhood while still connecting to a broader scope of what these experiences could possibly forshadow in her life as it continues to develop.


For each of us getting our hair pressed is an important ritual. It is not a sign of our longing to be white. It is not a sign of our quest to be beautiful. We are girls. It is a sign of our desire to be women. It is a gesture that says we are approaching womanhood—a rite of passage. Before we reach the appropriate age we wear braids and plaits that are symbols of our innocence, our youth, our childhood. Then we are comforted by the parting hands that comb and braid, comforted by the intimacy and bliss. There is a deeper intimacy in the kitchen on Saturday when hair is pressed, when fish is fried, when sodas are passed around, when soul music drifts over the talk. We are women together. This is our ritual and our time. It is time without men. It is a time when we work to meet each other's needs, to make each other beautiful in whatever way we can.

Bone Black by bell hooks


Bone Black is an excellent memoir. Different from the others, but that is what makes it special, memorable even. It's written as if bell hooks was just casually talking to you about her life growing up, but in those simple explanations come deeper implications for the women she evolved into.

What makes this book stand apart from other memoirs is the voice she rights in. Her narrative style does read like the memory recall of a girl, not necessarily a grown woman who is recounting her past, it's as if she captured the youth in descriptions and word choices, but puts an elevated style into the delivery which makes you see the beauty and depth in something simple.

In the above example, bell hooks takes one of my favorite topics, hair, and creates this beautiful visual of bonding between women, not ignoring the politics associated with hair nor the cultural significance, but amplifying the experience as one that is crucial to her identity. #womenshistorymonth

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