Many of the writing books on my shelf emphasize the mechanics of writing. They speak to style and commas and word choice and paragraph structure. And I need those. But remembered rapture: the writer at work by bell hooks is the writing book I didn’t know I needed until I read it.
This is bell hooks’ accounting of her journey as a writer. She speaks to the significant themes of race, gender and feminism that appear in her work, while writing passionately, and at times critically, about the industries in which her work has received attention. She incorporates the milestones of her own work and how they came to be. And she examines the literary influences that shaped her personal growth, thinking, and writing.
Her prose is straight-forward and accessible. She tackles themes and tensions with clarity and a focus on teaching and encouraging. Hooks is not worried about the how-to’s of writing or of how to build a social media platform; she discusses the “why” part of writing. Why write? Why write about that (fill in the blank)? Why should I? Why shouldn’t I? Why does that bother me? Why am I writing now? Why am I writing this way?
“Writing can be considered on its own terms and then it can also be looked at in relation to a writer’s background and personal history. My experience as a southern working-class black female from a religious family has shaped the way I see the world. Yet the specificity of that experience does not keep me from addressing universal concerns. It is not an either/or issue and never has been…I am not a writer who happens to be black. I am a writer who is black and female. These aspects of my identity strengthen my creative gifts. They are neither burdens nor limitations. By fully embracing all the markers that situate and locate me, I know who I am. Writing the truth of what we know is the essence of all great and good literature.”
She does not ignore the business aspects of writing and publishing, but she uses her experiences of getting her first book published and later of advancing her career to show ethical choices, to provoke discussion about access, and to encourage writers. She succeeds in these efforts not only as instructive opportunities but also in prodding deeper thought in these areas. They were notable moments for her that helped steady her focus and guide her decisions. Making the effort ourselves to reflect on our decisions can likewise ground our choices in intentionality and embolden our pursuit of influence.
“Writing and publishing my first book was a long-drawn-out test of faith. It was a process that taught me patience. It intensified my awareness that knowing the path we want to take does not mean that it will not be an arduous one or that the difficulty of the journey means potential failure.”
Hooks’ tributes to the writers who have influenced her life are like rich dessert after a satisfying feast. They are poignant and thoughtful. They inspire consideration. And they prompt the reader to consider the literary influences of their own career.
Every writer should read books about writing that reflect thoughtful pursuit of excellence. Remembered rapture is a good place to start, and, thanks to hooks’ references to and quotes from other books, you’ll have a good path to follow after you read it.