Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood

Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood

by bell hooks

Stitching together girlhood memories with the finest threads of innocence, feminist intellectual bell hooks presents a powerfully intimate account of growing up in the South. A memoir of ideas and perceptions, Bone Black shows the unfolding of female creativity and one strong-spirited child’s journey toward becoming a writer. She learns early on the rolesSee more details below


Stitching together girlhood memories with the finest threads of innocence, feminist intellectual bell hooks presents a powerfully intimate account of growing up in the South. A memoir of ideas and perceptions, Bone Black shows the unfolding of female creativity and one strong-spirited child’s journey toward becoming a writer. She learns early on the roles women and men play in society, as well as the emotional vulnerability of children. She sheds new light on a society that beholds the joys of marriage for men and condemns anything more than silence for women. In this world, too, black is a woman’s color—worn when earned—daughters and daddies are strangers under the same roof, and crying children are often given something to cry about. hooks finds good company in solitude, good company in books. She also discovers, in the motionless body of misunderstanding, that writing is her most vital breath.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Just as hooks, author of several books on issues of race and sex (Killing Rage, etc.) has idiosyncratically taken a lower-case name, her memoir, written in imagistic three-page segments, takes an unconventional approach. Aiming "to conjure a rich magical world of southern black culture," she avoids conventional signifiers like place names and dates and even shifts between a first-person and a third-person voice, referring to herself as "she." Add such techniques to simple, present-tense syntax, and the results can sound precious at times. Still, hooks is right to declare that "[n]ot enough is known about the experience of black girls in our society," so her effort deserves close reading. She struggles with a toy Barbie, preferring a brown doll. She finds sustenance in a rich black communitythough one grandmother hates dark skin. She turns to religion and she loves the library. Her mother and older sister treat her menarche with more scorn than sympathy, but she discovers on her own the private pleasure of sexuality. There are scenes of the growing young woman learning about jazz, developing a crush, seeing her parents fight, finding one white teacher who seems unafraid of black kids. In the end, this book leaves us with a familiar but not unsatisfying image, that of a sensitive youth finding in books deliverance from "the wilderness of spirit I am living in." (Oct.)
Library Journal
Hooks (Killing Rage, LJ 7/95), who teaches English at City College in New York, reveals her family secrets and her struggle to belong in this "unconventional" memoir of girlhood. Moving from the first to the third person in beautifully rendered short chapters quite unlike her scholarly work, hooks speaks of her mother's unhappy, abusive marriage; her siblings' disdain for her; her spiritual upbringing; and her discovery of sexuality. She grew up poor in the rural South, where she and her five sisters and brother came face to face with racism when they were forced to attend a white school in the name of integration. Hooks became interested in books at an early age, sometimes sneaking to read her father's pornographic materials, but her mother disapproved of her reading so much. Nevertheless, her reading tastes grew, from books on sex to books by George Eliot and Charlotte Bront to popular romances, which gave her the sense of "escape, release, a feeling of satisfaction, a belief in the possibility of self-recovery," and the urge to be a writer herself. A sad tale of childhood memories but a winner; highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/96.]Ann Burns, "Library Journal"
School Library Journal
YAThis treasure box of memories presents 61 snapshot vignettes of two-to-three pages in length of the author growing up in a southern town as an African-American rebel in a family of six girls and one boy. Memories flow chronologically and reveal hooks's growing awareness of the world around her and her role in it. She fits these experiences, dreams, and fantasies together to help explain how she came to be the writer and woman she is today. Sometimes these episodes are told in the first person, sometimes indirectly by a third person to give them distance and objectivity. Hooks grew up poor without realizing her poverty and yet she had rich experiences and many warm, loving adults around her to help balance the abuse she occasionally incurred from others. Her intense insight into everyday experiences elicits universal acknowledgment. She shares experiences of wash day, caring for an elderly woman with palsy, rescuing discarded books, listening to jazz, attending integrated schools for the first time, coping with feelings of loneliness, and encountering reaction to biracial relationships. She learns about child cruelty, country churches and salvation, sexuality, masturbation, homosexuality, and dirty books. Each chapter carries her life forward, revealing another experience or memory. A unique autobiography of a contemporary African-American woman that should find a place in all collections.Dottie Kraft, formerly at Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
Kirkus Reviews
Quite a departure from her usual work, this slender memoir allows African-American feminist writer hooks (Killing Rage, 1995, etc.) to look back on her childhood.

Although hooks has always drawn very effectively on her past in her trenchant social and political essays, this book is the first of her works to deal at length with what it was like growing up black in the South in the 1950s. It is also, she writes, about her struggle to create a self and an "identity distinct from and yet inclusive of the world around me . . . a rich magical world of southern black culture that was sometimes paradisiacal and at other times terrifying." Telling her story in brief vignettes, hooks illuminates each of the elements that composed that world, describing her parents, torn, sometimes to the point of violence, by the pressures that married life brings; an extended family that provided her with room to dream at the same time that it fed her a range of conflicting cues about how to live; a black subculture that instilled a series of painful lessons in color-driven self-evaluation; and finally, a white majority culture that could offer both the benefits of literature and the punishments of racial discrimination. As a child hooks was a loner, a little girl who loved books but who possessed "too much spirit" to suit her father. Fortunately, her extended family offered her many female role models: Grandmothers, aunts, and others helped prepare her for life in a harsh world. Alternating between first- and third-person narratives, Bone Black is as much about deciphering the secret languages and sign systems of adulthood, about learning how the larger world works, as it is about creating one's identity.

The narrative voice is oddly disembodied, somehow disturbingly disengaged; there are moments of real force and pain here, but they are not sustained. A book of great intelligence, Bone Black's power is somewhat diffused by this reticence of tone.

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Product Details

Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
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Product dimensions:
5.24(w) x 7.78(h) x 0.79(d)

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