Last night I took advantage of an opportunity to see bell hooks speak at Seattle's Town Hall. Last time she came to town, hooks appeared at Elliott Bay Bookstore. Shawn and I made a last minute decision to go see her read. We showed up early for the event, but the bookstore was so packed that there wasn't any room for us. Clearly there is a need in Seattle to hear the words and thoughts of this challenging and exhuberant speaker. I was not going to make the mistake of showing up so late this time around.
Town Hall was scheduled to open at 6PM, with the auditorium opening at 6:30 and bell's program was to begin at 7PM. I showed up on the steps of Town Hall at 5PM, but I was by no means the first person there. When I walked by the site at 4PM on my way to find some dinner, there were already a couple of people lined up.
I met a woman named Angie while waiting outside. Angie's son was supposed to meet her there for an evening out together, but he arrived too late to get in. Angie and I made due and had a wonderful conversation before the hooks' discussion. She had never heard of bell hooks until 3 weeks ago. Angie's friend had told her about hooks and had spoken so enthusiastically about hooks that Angie decided to come to the discussion and try to save spots for her friend and her son. When Angie asked, "I don't even know, is she black?" I found out exactly how little Angie knew. I asked Angie why she was asking and she noted that there were a lot of black people at this discussion. I smiled, and then tried to give her a summary of the hooks work I was familiar with. Some women from UW, in line in front of me, affirmed my summary and added to it. We all agreed, Angie should get some books, soon, either from the library or the bookstore.
By the time Town Hall began letting people in, the line for the conversation with bell hooks was literally down to the far end of the block, around the corner, down the next block, and around the corner again. Angie and I had never been to Town Hall and we began to wonder how many seats there were. Town Hall only had 600 seats available, but once they saw how many people were in line (at least double that, by Town Hall's account)they began to let more people in as standing room only. The place (Town Hall, by the way, is in a renovated church with the pews serving as the seats) was packed. Like I said, there are people craving the truth bell hooks speaks.
My own craving had been developing for years. I first came across bell hooks as she was being interviewed for a literary program that aired on a UHF-broadcast Independent Canadian television station in the late 80s. I was hooked, so to speak, as I listened to this woman discuss race, feminism, and patriarchy. Since that time, I've bought and read many of her books. She's led me happily along as she explored radical evolution, artistic criticism, critiques of capitalism, gangsta rap, art, education, and discussions of love and masculinity.
bell hooks did not disappoint. She was introduced to a standing ovation. By the time she ended the evening, she received an even longer standing ovation. She spoke for a bit under an hour. The "Conversation with..." part of the evening was focused on turning the focus over to people in the audience who wanted to ask questions. There was a wide breadth of questions as well - black women asking about self image and black men, white gay male asking about her thoughts on bionary thinking, women discussing how to approach raising children free of patriarchy, a young woman (11th grade) discussing how to form bonds between feminists of color and white feminists, and more.
When I came home from the discussion, I spent an hour talking with Shawn about it. She had to study and I'm sorry that she wasn't able to hear hooks speak in person. Shawn has seen her on C-SPAN (her first and only occassion to hear bell hooks...at first I insisted that Shawn sit down and within 5 minutes, she was hooked, too, and stayed for the 3 hour program).
The good news for Shawn, and for the reader, should she choose to engage this woman's thoughts, is that bell hooks gave an interview yesterday on KUOW. Many of the topics touched on in the interview were also discussed yesterday during her radio interview. The archive of the interview is online here as either a Real Audio or an MP3 stream. It is well worth the time and is a good introduction to her work. If you like what you hear, check out your local library or bookstore to seek out her written works. They are even more challenging and well worth the time.
Also, for Seattle residents, the Town Hall program was recorded. You might find it one day on the UW cable station.