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Austin Peay honors the life of author bell hooks with a symposium ‘All About Love’ 

By: Zoe Huffman September 8, 2023

From the left are Francene Gilmer, Valerie Watkins, Gwenda Watkins-Motley and Idalia Luna.

Austin Peay State University recently celebrated the life and success of bell hooks, author of “All About Love,” with an educational symposium on Wednesday, Sept. 6. Among the featured guests were her two sisters, Gwenda Watkins-Motley and Valerie Watkins, her childhood friend, Francene Gilmer, and human rights advocate Idalia Luna.  

The symposium aimed to tell the story of hooks’ life and career as a human rights advocate and successful author. The primary focus was on her book “All About Love,” which explains hooks’ philosophy on love and its role throughout our lives.  

Speakers shared personal stories of their experiences with hooks, known by her friends and family as Gloria. They also explored her book’s influence on local and nationwide politics.  

After the presentation, audience members were encouraged to ask the speakers questions and share their reactions and interpretations of hooks’ writing. The audience also received free copies of "All About Love.”

Attendees of the "All About Love" event.

A lifelong friend recounts hooks’ influence  

Hooks’ lifelong friend, Francene Gilmer, spoke first, providing insight on hooks’ early life, noting her intelligence and love for literature were among her defining characteristics.  

“Gloria would go upstairs to the bedroom after dinner, but she would not be hanging out with us,” Gilmer said. “She was in her bed surrounded by books and always seemed to be reading. Gloria was a smart girl. [She] was different from most of us as young people because she was on the intellectual side.” 

Gilmer attributed the depth of hooks’ work to her childhood intelligence. Hooks’ writings will remain significant as her ideas on love transcend time.  

“She was deep,” Gilmer said. “Her books let you know that she was indeed deep. The relevance of this book, ‘All About Love,’ is timeless.”  

Gilmer hopes hooks’ story can guide people to solve their problems with love, and help them grow from their experiences.  

“In this book, we read the progressive experience of a young girl growing into a young lady,” Gilmer said. “And [she] has given us a guide to the solution of an ongoing problem in this world, and that is to get along. Bell offers a solution, and she says it's all about love.”

Eboné Amos speaks during the inaugural bell hooks panel.

Hooks’ sister explains her philosophy on love 

Following Gilmer, hooks’ sister Gwenda Watkins-Motley spoke on hooks’ career and accomplishments.  

“The life, legacy and love for bell hooks is ongoing, sothat generations to come may learn of her, be inspired by her life's work and be changed by her words of love,” Watkins-Motley said.  

Watkins-Motley explained that returning to love and maintaining a consistent hold on it were essential in hooks’ life.  

“That’s really how she lived her life and what she was about - returning to love,” Watkins-Motley said. “She saw that love was very important, and to ground ourselves in love and wisdom is anything but easy. Love takes constant reflection and practice.”  

This ideology is what draws readers back to hooks’ writing. Watkins-Motley references the pandemic, when “All About Love” resurfaced on The New York Times best-seller list, as a time in which people sought hooks’ philosophy and perspective on love.  

“In the pandemic, we needed something,” Watkins-Motley said. “The world needed something. It needed a return to love. As bell often said, ‘Love is necessary work, and it is in and through love that we learn to resist to thrive and to lead under any circumstances.’”

"Saved by the bell" at Einstein Bros. Bagels.

Hooks’ compassion inspires a new political perspective 

Speaker Idalia Luna, a human rights advocate in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, drew inspiration from hooks’ idea of a “love ethic.” Luna uses hooks’ love ethic to reflect on the injustice within society, especially that experienced by minorities.  

“All the great social movements for freedom and justice in our society have promoted a love ethic,” Luna read, quoting from “All About Love.” “If all public policy was created in a spirit of love, we would not have to worry about unemployment, homelessness, schools failing to teach children or addiction. Were love ethics informing our public policy in cities and towns, individuals would come together and map out programs that would affect the good of everyone.”  

Luna goes on to express her concerns regarding local and national politics, citing hooks as a common example for how people should care for one another. Hooks’ compassion for others has fueled Luna’s passion for human rights.  

Hooks’ book fights oppression with kindness 

Lastly, hooks’ sister, Valerie Watkins, discussed hooks’ acknowledgement of inequality and her desire to overcome it. “All About Love” is in part an attempt to understand oppression and provide a solution. 

“There was something about this [book] that coincided with her desire to struggle to work hard to understand,” Watkins said. “People all over the world are fighting. Fighting to be heard, fighting to be seen, fighting to have an equal seat at the table.” 

Watkins also spoke on hooks’ overwhelming kindness toward others and her willingness to forgive. Watkins recalls that in the face of oppression, hooks stood her ground, fighting injustice with kindness and a reluctance to engage in negativity.  

“When we would go to some place and someone was rude, condescending or racially inappropriate, she would say to me, ‘Valerie we're going to have a Martin Luther King Day,’” Watkins said. “So what we were going to do was be loving. We’re going to be kind. We’re going to be encouraging.”  

Watkins believes that hooks wrote the book with forgiveness in mind, urging people to let go of the negativity in their lives.  

“I truly believe that my sister was trying to help people look deep within and not be afraid,” Watkins said. “Not continue to carry the guilt, the pain, the loss, the hurt. To let it go. To forgive, so that that wellspring of love could come forward.”  

Hooks authored over 30 books throughout her career, many focusing on ideas of love, justice, feminism, human rights and much more. Her writings continue to inspire generations of people to lead a life of love.

Other bell hooks events

The event was one of three during a three-day sumposium that celebrated bell hooks from Sept. 5-7. The other two events were "Saved by the bell" on Sept. 5 hosted by the Feminist Majority Leadership Council and the inaugural "bell hooks Panel" on Sept. 7 hosted by the Wilbur N. Daniel African American Cultural Center with moderator Professor Eboné Amos and panelists Dr. Charles Gonzalez, Eriksson College of Education; Dr. Jessica Blake, College of Arts and Letters; Dr. Paula White, Women's and Gender Studies; and Dr. Raymond Deeren, College of Arts and Letters.

"All About Love" was a collaboration involving African American Studies, the Eriksson College of Education, the Department of Political Science and Public Management, Women and Gender Studies and the Office of Institutional Culture.

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