Our Interns Review: Ony Ratsimbaharison on bell hooks' Wounds of Passion

As part of Jasper's summer intern experience we asked our interns to write about-- and even review -- books, films, paintings, ART -- that have been influential to them in their journeys. Heck, we invite you all to do this, as well. We hope you enjoy Ony Ratsimbaharison's review of the always radicalizing bell hooks' 1997 Wounds of Passion :  A Writing Life. For more on hooks, please visit the website for the bell hooks Institute at Berea College.)

bell hooks


“Writing is my passion. Words are the way to know ecstasy. Without them life is barren. The poet insists Language is a body of suffering and when you take up language you take up the suffering too. All my life I have been suffering for words. Words have been the source of the pain and the way to heal.” –bell hooks, Wounds of Passion


If there’s question as to how and why bell hooks has written so much in her life, it is clear from her heartbreaking experimental memoir Wounds of Passion A writing life (H. Holt, 1997) that writing was her most vital coping method.

The prolific black feminist and social activist author intertwines the story of finding her writing voice with finding a sense of purpose and love, both following the most troubled times of her childhood and as well as during a long-term relationship with another writer. It’s a great read for anyone interested in experiencing the life of a writer through their own critical eye. The title describes the work best—these aren’t just memories but her wounds being reopened and once again healed through the power of writing.

In the preface, hooks explains that the root word for passion is patior, which means to suffer. She insists that pain cannot be avoided if one feels deeply, which she quite evidently does. Many of the memories presented are unpleasant ones, each marked by hooks’ suffering. She describes the hurt she felt in her childhood, for being the subject of ridicule for being too much like herself. She found comfort in words and in poetry from a young age. During her 15-year relationship with another writer she calls Mack, hooks is again and continually the subject of someone else’s pain-infliction. The details of her struggles are often difficult to read because the pain is so apparent.

The most rewarding part of reading Wounds of Passion is seeing first-hand how hooks develops her writing voice in the midst of all her suffering. It is clear that words and writing are her passion, and hooks makes note of people who influence her to be dedicated to her craft. Her descriptions of people she admires are so loving and inspiring (examples?) that it’s hard not to admire them too.

Another interesting component of the book is the use of both third and first person perspectives. The first person narrator is hooks experiencing the pain at the time. She wants to make her sometimes chaotic relationship work, despite all the hurt she feels from it. The third person narrator is the hooks after all the chaos, who now sees why they were doomed from the start.

Wounds of Passion is great for anyone seeking to experience the power of words during troubled times. For someone familiar with the work of bell hooks, this book provides more context to her life as a writer, making all her previous work even more powerful. It's a book about pain and honesty, and how some wounds can ignite passion. -Jasper intern Ony Ratsimbaharison