How romance novels shape our erotic desires; the lasting legacy of bell hooks : It's Been a Minute This week, we're asking: do the fantasies we read in romance novels say anything about what we want in our real-life relationships? Devoted readers share how the genre has impacted their love lives. Host Brittany Luse also sits down with writer Rebekah Weatherspoon to learn how she builds a world of desire.

Then, we talk to Dr. E. Gale Greenlee, teacher-scholar in residence at the bell hooks center in Berea Kentucky, about lasting impact of bell hooks' work, and how she changed the way we think about love.

You can follow us on Twitter @ItsBeenAMin or email us at

Unlocking desire through smut; plus, the gospel of bell hooks

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You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Brittany Luse. And a heads-up to listeners, in the first part of today's episode, we'll be talking explicitly about sex and kink.


LUSE: Happy Valentine's Day, everyone. Tonight, I'll probably split a heart-shaped pizza with my husband. I'm not too big on Valentine's Day, but don't get it twisted. I do love romance - and not just for February. I like to get swept away by passion 365 days out of the year. And there are a lot of people who feel the same way.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I'm reading a hundred books - a hundred romance books a year.

LUSE: (Laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I read, like, six this week alone.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I might start something as late as 10 o'clock at night when I get in the bed, and then, at 3:30 in the morning, I'm like, OK. That was great. And then I go to sleep (laughter).

LUSE: That's how they get you, though (laughter). That's how they get you.

Today on the show, we are talking about romance novels. And we want to know, do our wildest literary fantasies have any bearing on the romance we want in our real lives? Later on, we'll hear from one of my all-time favorite romance and erotica writers. But first, we hear from the genre's dedicated readers on what these fantasies unlocked and the passages that make them blush. So what hot pages can you find between their covers?


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Recently, I definitely got into monster romances. The creativity that some of these authors have with the anatomy of these monsters is just top-notch.

(Reading) The granite gargoyle takes up nearly half of the room with large, curved horns that sprout like from a ram. Then the wing moves. I scream.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I love the stuck in a cabin in the winter with no power, especially if there's, like, a winter storm or there's, like, a flood - any kind of, like, natural disaster that's happening.

LUSE: Even a flood?



LUSE: OK. OK. I'm with you. I'm with you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I love a one-bed trope. I love forced proximity. I love marriage of convenience. I love fake dating. I'm, like, really big in the sci-fi ones. One of the books was a gay couple, and one of them was a kraken. And I didn't want that to unlock something in me. Unfortunately, it did.

(Reading) Before I knew what was happening, Cyrus (ph) was carrying me, the muscular lengths of his tentacles supporting our combined weight and shuffling us towards the stall without breaking our kiss. I knew he was strong, but I didn't think he was that strong. You like that, Rolands (ph), he asked, as his tentacle slammed the door to the shower stall open and we stumbled inside.

LUSE: While our dear readers might love to escape into the fantasy of sexy squids, we asked if all their fantasies might translate off the pages? Like, do they really want romance in the middle of a flood or an octopod lover or that big, strong beau in real life?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Like, protective, alpha boyfriend, like, bordering on controlling in romances - if someone tried to do that to me personally, I'd freak out. But in the books, I love that. I eat that up.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: There are some things like a why-choose romance, like polyamory. I would never be able to do that. My husband is it for me, and I don't think I could handle more than one person.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Like, the blood play thing - I really like that. Probably not something I would ever do in real life, but this is, like, cool to read on paper.

LUSE: These stories provide a pleasurable window into a life many readers have no interest in leading. Through these vicarious romps, romance readers are cultivating an inner sexual life that has nothing to do with their partners, which can be empowering. But according to my good friend, romance connoisseur, writer and podcaster Nichole Perkins, there could be another reason romance and erotica readers find these stories so appealing.

NICHOLE PERKINS: So I think a lot of reasons people turn to romance and erotica is to get what they're not necessarily getting in real life or what they're not allowed to get in real life.

LUSE: Sometimes they might not get what they're looking for because finding the right person or people to share intimacy with is way harder as an actual person than it is for book characters.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: As someone who is also very much plus-size, it's almost, like, unthinkable to think that someone would like me because I have issues with my own body, but a monster could love me for who I am. I don't know of any man that I think is attractive would find me attractive, but a monster, if he found me attractive or he found my personality likable, then we could fall for each other.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I love alien-mate ones. There's, like, an element of, like, you can't abandon this person because you're soul mates and, like, you will - you are - have such a vest interest in each other because you're assigned soul mates, like, you'll work through things together. And I think that, like, that for me is a particularly pretty enticing romance just because of, like, the dating - the queer dating scene in New York City is garbage. I've talked about it in therapy being like, it's pretty hard to, like, be doing casual, online dating, like, go get, like, coffee with someone who's a stranger and be like, how many siblings do you have - like, have to kind of doing this, like, really, like, mind-numbing, boring, time-consuming thing where you're kind of, like, consistently rejected.

LUSE: One of our readers, Kimia (ph), she's not necessarily looking for a person to share her interest with.

KIMIA: I love dark romance books, so maybe with forbidden tropes, Mafia romance, taboo books. So the darker it is, the more I enjoy it. I would say 90% of the things that I read in, especially dark romance, aren't things that I would even tolerate in real life, let alone be attracted to.

LUSE: But dark romance, a genre which often features non-consensual fantasies, gives her a safe place to explore.

KIMIA: I have been sexually assaulted in my life, but it has helped me to deal with those events because I get to read about something similar happening to a book character. But at the end of it, they find the light. They find something good from it. To get that happy ending, in fiction at least, can be very comforting. You can experience these things internally because reading, everything is in your head. You can make it as big as you want or as small as you want. No one else is with you. You don't have to put up a persona. You don't have to pretend at all. It gives us a space to look up things, learn things, experience them without having to actually put ourselves out there.

LUSE: But even though these readers are by themselves in the safety of fantasy, reading these books has helped them express themselves out in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I think one of the most valuable things that romance gave me was, like, scripts to actually read about, you know, different - here's one way to have this conversation, here's another way to have this conversation. It's like you know you should talk about it, but you don't necessarily know how - birth control, consent, how to say I don't like this particular thing, but it's not like I don't like you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I've sort of found this new, like, confidence. It's not bad to want to ask for a little bit more.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Before these books, you could not talk about sex to me. But now that I read it almost - or, every day, I'm telling you, I'm like, I read this book yesterday and he did this to her and you got to read this.

LUSE: But most importantly, they're just a good time.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: One of the most important things to me with romance novels is that they're fun, and they make me happy.

LUSE: They are fun, and they make me happy, too.

Coming up, I talk to one of my favorite romance authors about how she approaches her books. Stick around.


LUSE: Out of every romance author I've ever read, there is one that I've been dying to talk to - Rebekah Weatherspoon. She's a bestselling romance author who's written over 20 titles, working within a range of romance subgenres. And when I say she's good, she is good.

(Reading) He pulled away, his eyes struggling to open. When he could finally focus on Evie's face, he reached up and lightly brushed her cheek. They were both breathing heavy, and Zach had a feeling neither of them wanted this to be a one-off. This was only a preview of things to come.

And Nichole is actually the one who introduced me to Rebekah's books. Rebekah wrote one of Nichole's favorite scenes ever, even if the scene wasn't quite her bag in real life.

PERKINS: The name of this particular book is called "Haven."

LUSE: Yes.

PERKINS: Have you read it?

LUSE: Yes, I read "Haven." (Laughter) That was a good one.

PERKINS: (Laughter).

LUSE: That was a good one.

PERKINS: Yes, and it's my favorite one - OK, so there's, like, at one point - either she's tied up or there's a gag in her mouth and there's drool that happens. I am not into drool during sexy time. I am not into spit, you know, like, aggressive spitting, like a ptooey (ph) kind of spit situation.

LUSE: You don't want any of that.

PERKINS: I don't want any of that. But the way Rebekah wrote it, I was just like, oh, am I turned on by this? Because this is outside of my usual situation, here, but the way that it was written, the way that Rebekah wrote it, was just fantastic. And I have never forgotten it. It's because Rebekah has such a way of painting the scene. Anybody that can, like, take me outside of my comfort zone and still make me be intrigued by it is just a star in my mind.

LUSE: So we asked Rebekah how she does what she does for readers like Nichole and me.

Rebekah, welcome to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE. It's so great to have you.

REBEKAH WEATHERSPOON: Hi. Thank you for having me.

LUSE: I'm just curious. What percentage of the things you write about are you actually into?

WEATHERSPOON: When I write, I fully try to inhabit those characters, right? All of my characters have, like, a little bit of me in them, but I'm - they're not me. There's stuff that I'm more like, oh, I'm fine with this. So it's not necessarily that I'm, like, into it, per se, but it's more stuff that's like - doesn't cross my hard limits of like, no, no, no, I don't like this, if that makes sense. I try to just include stuff that, like, at the most, like, I would also be OK with and enjoy reading and then I go based on who that character is.

Speaking of "Haven," like, I know a lot of people read that, they loved it. And they're like, oh, Shep is, like, such a great hero. Like, in real life, I would murder Shep. Him and I would not get along. So it's like - he is not my go-to hero. Like, I love him in theory, but him and I would stab each other. We would not get along at all. So that, in and of itself, is kind of like, this is not the kind of man that I would date in real life either. I crafted that man for the heroine of Claudia, if that makes sense.

LUSE: It does make sense. Is it your goal in your writing to introduce new fantasies to people that they didn't know they liked or thought they didn't like?

WEATHERSPOON: Yeah. I think I - 'cause I want people to, when they're reading it, feel like they're reading something fresh, for sure. I want people to sometimes be like, oh, I haven't thought of doing that. Oh, I can do that in a chair? Oh, like - but I also, too, want to make sure that when I'm writing books, that I'm writing scenes that are safe, in all kinds of ways, right? So if it's really explicit BDSM, I'm like, OK, we're talking about safe words, we're talking about hard limits, and then we're using protection, we're washing our hands. And I'm sneaking safe sex in there. I'm going to get it in there. So, yeah, I try to make sure stuff is fresh, and I try to make sure that stuff is safe because I think that's also - when you feel safe in sexual situations, those are the best ways to enjoy them and feel cared for, as well.

LUSE: That makes me think about the readers that we've spoken to. Plenty of readers that we talked to have said that there's a lot that they like to read and that they want no part of in real life. But there are also fantasies that speak to things that they feel like they're missing in their, like, real-life relationships. How do you balance the push and pull between reality and fantasy in your books?

WEATHERSPOON: Sure. Well, so the reality part is kind of, like - reality is, like, a weird word because I think when you're talking about fiction, you know it's not real. You know what I'm saying? Like, all readers and writers, we have a concept of, like, what feels realistic within the context of the story. And I think it just has to, like, do the job of, like, entertaining you. And sometimes that does involve, like, things you would want to do or things you wouldn't want to do. I'm a big paranormal gal. I love paranormal romance. I love shifter romance, I love werewolves, all of that. You are not going to catch me dead in the woods. It's not happening. I do not - I hate camping. I hate - I am not an outdoorsy girl, right? I am a hotel broad that - full - fully.

But I will read about a woman getting stranded, and then she's rescued by a bunch of werewolves who, like, live in the woods. Yvette Hines has this great series. It's a bear-shifter community in north - in northern California. And it's so much fun. But they're in the woods, like, that whole book. And I was like, I would never - like I'm just - I am not a woodsy gal. So I think that's, like - that is actually the beauty of romance as entertainment. It's, like, you can take a minute to read something that is, like, either not realistic to you or something that you don't want to do in real life, but you can enjoy it in the safety of, like, the covers of a book. You know what I mean?

LUSE: I'm glad you put the bear-shifter community on my radar. That was something I had not been thinking about, and now I am. So I appreciate that.

WEATHERSPOON: The Black indie girls are really killing it with the paranormal romance. They've been doing it this whole time. There's some really good stuff out there.

LUSE: Thank you for the tip. I appreciate that. Thank you for the tip. Is there anything else that, you know, that we didn't ask about that you want to shout out or talk about?

WEATHERSPOON: Just, for your listeners who are not romance people, I think it's important to remember romance is, like, a beautiful thing. And I think sometimes people discredit romance novels for a lot of reasons - for a lot of reasons. But - I remember I was talking to someone at a party and they were asking me about writing romance and, you know, being kind of condescending. And I asked them, I was like, OK, I was like, where is "Star Wars" without love? If we took all - even the, like, off-screen romance out of "Star Wars," do Luke and Leia even exist, right? Do we get iconic moments with Han and Leia? No. If you take all that out, it completely changes that whole universe, right?

I think about "Lord of the Rings." It's brotherly love. But as someone who's actually not a big, high-fantasy girl, I remember when my dad took me to see "Lord of the Rings" and absolutely falling in love with Sam and Frodo because that friendship was so full of love. That was just, like, peak familial love, right? This is my friend. I'm literally going to follow this man to the ends of the earth. And I think that when we look at a genre that decides to center that love, that's, like, a beautiful thing. And I think that if more people, maybe, were taking a couple minutes out of their day to refocus and rethink about that love, this world might be, like, a lot better place.

LUSE: That's a really beautiful thought. Rebekah, thank you so much. Thank you so much for sharing that with me, and thank you so much for joining me on the show today. This was a fantastic conversation.

WEATHERSPOON: Thank you. I had a great time.

LUSE: Thanks again to romance writer Rebekah Weatherspoon. You can find her fantastic novels anywhere you buy your books. And thanks to all the romance readers you heard earlier - writer and podcaster Nichole Perkins, Leah Koch, co-owner of The Ripped Bodice bookstore in Culver City, Calif., West, TikTok user @smutbooksarelife, Lydia (ph), Kimia and Winter (ph). Coming up, bell hooks' lasting legacy on love. Stay with us.


LUSE: You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Brittany Luse. Next, we are talking love - "All About Love." That's the title of an extremely popular book, one that's never gone out of print and has had more than 765 editions. And it's by one of the greats - bell hooks. She was a prolific writer, sharp cultural critic, distinguished professor and game changer for the way we think about building healthy relationships.


BELL HOOKS: Standing before Black children who tell me there is no love in clear, flat, dispassionate voices, I confront our collective failure as a nation, as African Americans, to create a world where we can all know love.

LUSE: She graced Time magazine's list of 100 Women Of The Year in 2020, in part for the way she's inspired generations of feminist activists, thinkers and scholars, like Dr. Gale E. Greenlee.

GALE E GREENLEE: They say don't judge a book by its cover, but I saw the cover, saw the color, saw the ankh and saw her name in lowercase and it just caught my eye. So I picked it up. I spent my own money, and I read that book, from cover to cover, in a very short time. It was the first book I read for pleasure on my own in life - in life.

LUSE: Dr. Greenlee is a Black feminist legacy keeper and teacher-scholar in residence at the bell hooks center in Berea, Ky., where bell spent some of her last years in academia. We talk bell's legacy, her influence on the culture and the lessons she left for us.


LUSE: Welcome to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE. It's such a pleasure to have you.

GREENLEE: Thank you so much for having me, for inviting me.

LUSE: Honestly, it's our privilege. It's absolutely our privilege. So I think it'd be nice to start with the bell hooks book "All About Love" and its enduring power. But for listeners who may not have read the book yet, what are some of the biggest lessons from "All About Love"?

GREENLEE: "All About Love" is definitely one where she's looking at all iterations of love - love between parents and children, love between partners, love between friends. She talked about love being an action, that you have to show and demonstrate and live out your love and not just speak it. You can say anything, but what do you do? I remember sitting with her once, and we were talking about ideas of care and affection. And she said, but care is not love. It's just one ingredient of love. Describing love with the metaphor of a cake, and you have all of these ingredients and you need all of those elements in order to really say that you love someone or that you have love in your life. And care was one of those. Respect, I think, was another - affection. It was a multilayered cake - multiple ingredients that you have to mix into the pot.

LUSE: I wonder, what specifically from "All About Love" changed the way that you love or approach love?

GREENLEE: Oh, my goodness. I actually was sitting in the bell hooks center yesterday, and we have these columns with some quotes from bell around the center. And there's one quote that comes from "All About Love," where she says, there is no justice without love. There is no love without justice. And so to me, that really epitomizes her ideas about love. If we care deeply about justice, if we care deeply about anti-racism, about gender equity, all of those, it has to be undergirded with a love ethic.

LUSE: You know, something that strikes me in reading bell hooks - I mean, especially that book - is the confidence that she had to write from her experiences. I think about how much she shared in "All About Love" about her upbringing with her family and how she used that as an example to teach us about the difference between being loved and being cared for. She shared a lot about her romantic relationships, about the desire for a romantic relationship and how that wasn't something she had at that point in her life. I love the way that she used the lessons that she gleaned from her life experiences as instructive to her readers. That was so impressive. But especially at that time, like, to be a Black woman, to put the stake in the ground and declare yourself the expert on love - that's huge.

GREENLEE: Exactly. The expert on love based upon your life experience, your life experience as a Black woman, right? She did multiple interviews where she commented on the state of love in Black communities and how there seems to be an absence of that conversation, particularly in pop culture, also among Black youth. I was recently revisiting an interview that she did with Lil' Kim that came out in '97, and she even remarked to Lil' Kim that, you know, I don't really see young people talking about love. So for her to say, yes - she is the expert on love - I don't know if she would say she was, but, you know, that she has something important to say...

LUSE: Yes.

GREENLEE: ...About love based upon her experience as a Black woman from rural Kentucky - right? - and that we need to listen to it - that, in and of itself, is just amazing.

LUSE: You made it very plain that, you know, you two knew each other in real life. And, you know, her book is the first book you ever read in your life for pleasure. How did you and bell meet?

GREENLEE: I went to graduate school at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Ga. I was in the Africana Women's Studies program, and I read everything that she wrote - everything. I wrote my master's thesis on her, about her work as a kind of healing literature. She came to speak at Charis Books, which is one of the oldest feminist bookstores in the U.S. South. And I brought my master's thesis with me. I printed it out, put it in a white three-ring notebook. I don't know if it was arrogant or if it was just - you know, just really being naive and excited that I was going to finally meet her. Well, I gave a copy to someone at the bookstore and said, could you please pass this on to her? And I went to her talk that night. And at the end of the conversation, she signed books, as most authors do. And when I walked up to the front and had my name on a Post-it Note, she looked down, and she recognized it.

LUSE: Wow.

GREENLEE: And she said, you're a good writer. And I was just floored, absolutely floored. But I did not actually, personally, come in contact with her until 2019, when I came here to Berea College...

LUSE: Wow.

GREENLEE: ...As a visiting professor of African American literature. She was, in some senses, I think, trying to replicate that idea of sister circles that she wrote about in "Sisters Of The Yam." And so there were several of us that gathered at her home, really, to talk about spirituality and love. Yeah. But from that, I was able to come and continue to visit her. She always wanted to know my business, you know? Are you dating anyone? Who are you seeing? She was constantly talking about love.

LUSE: The bell hooks' book that affected me most deeply with "Sisters Of The Yam," which I first read in just 2019, 26 years after its publication. That book came into my life at the exact right time, and it blew my mind then, so many years after its initial publication, even after many of the book's ideas had already been accepted by many people and incorporated into now what, you know, you've mentioned as a mainstreaming discussion about Black women, self-recovery and wellness. How did it feel to receive bell's books in their time, when the ideas that she was putting out, people weren't even prepared for them? What was that like?

GREENLEE: That's an interesting question. She was so prolific that, you know, it was nothing for a book to come out almost every single year. And she got a lot of flak. You know, some people just didn't want to hear what she had to say. There were critics, men and women, Black and white. And some people were very critical of her autobiographical bent in her writing. She went to places that you would read and think, oh, my goodness, she's putting this out? You know, when oftentimes in Black communities we're told, don't put your laundry out - right? - in the street for other people to see. I was just shocked by how bold she was and how honest she was. She was just a truth-teller in every respect, and she was fearless in it, which I just admired immensely.

LUSE: One of my producers, Corey Antonio, first came to bell hooks through her lectures. He's also talked about how great she was at conversations, like her conversation with Laverne Cox at The New School back in 2014. She and Laverne really got into it regarding the differences in how some cis and some trans women think about feminine gender performance.


LAVERNE COX: I think that it's important to know that all trans women are not embracing this, that this trans woman does, and this trans woman feels empowered by it.


LUSE: And you could see that bell hooks was really listening to Laverne Cox. And then bell came to a new understanding through listening.


HOOKS: What I hear are two things, in that not that you wish to perpetuate the patriarchy, but that the desire to be seen, to be visible, I think is a desire that we have to recognize and we have to continually critique.

LUSE: That willingness to learn in public, not learning in a performative way but, like, really listening and paying attention, it's just something that is hard to come by, I would say, in public life right now. It's such a symptom of contemporary life that we want to rush to understanding or at least seeming like we understand something rather than to deeply learn.

GREENLEE: I've seen many of those New School conversations. And you're right. There were ways in which she could disagree deeply and would interject...

LUSE: (Laughter).

GREENLEE: ...And would speak her mind, say her piece, but at the same time would very intently listen. And you could see that in her face. You know, thank goodness for video. We can actually see her physical affect and how she was really tuned in and zeroed in to what her conversation partner had to say. I think she just believed deeply in talking. Can we talk through our differences?

LUSE: If bell was still around, what kind of conversations do you think that she'd be having?

GREENLEE: (Laughter) I do wonder about - and I'm tired of thinking about it. But I do wonder what her commentary would have been about the whole Will Smith-Chris Rock situation.

LUSE: Yeah.


CHRIS ROCK: Oh, wow. Wow.

GREENLEE: Because she has written so much about masculinity, not only "We Real Cool," but then also "The Will To Change"...

LUSE: Right.

GREENLEE: ...On men and masculinity. I wonder what she would have to say about that. She was just very attuned to the ways in which patriarchy really restricts ideas of what it means to be a man. You have a very limited script, if you will, social script - right? - of what you can say, what you can do, how you should walk through the world, and oftentimes, it's hypermasculine. It's based upon showing force - right? - and being domineering. And so I think that she would see that kind of script playing out in what we saw between Will and Chris Rock. I wonder about that particular incident also because she interviewed Jada. And later on, Jada actually brought Willow to meet her. I don't know where they were, if they were in New York, what have you. So there was some sort of continued contact between the two, not that she needed that to comment on anything because she would comment on anything and everything that she had an opinion on.

LUSE: I remember specifically when "Lemonade" came out, she wrote a critique that was published in The Guardian, and she tore Beyonce up (laughter).

GREENLEE: And called her a terrorist, even - you know? - and said that she was concerned about young, Black girls. But then, if you revisit her interview with Lil' Kim, and Lil' Kim said, you know, some people are saying that I'm, like, the downfall of women's liberation. Bell said that - I don't see that. She told her, I didn't believe that. I see you as someone who's, you know, taking control of their sexuality and their pleasure. And so I really wonder where she would fall at this day and age because she passed - I think she was 69, almost 70, at the time of her death. And people do change. But at the same time, she was so adamant about women being in control of their bodies, I'm thinking specifically about reproductive rights, reproductive justice, but also in control of sexuality. So I wonder what she would have to say about the circulation of those kind of images and what artists today are doing.

LUSE: I mean, that's something I wish that I could hear myself. Where do you see bell hooks' influence in the world today? I feel like that could be a big question, but where do you see it?

GREENLEE: I feel like I see it everywhere. Again, the emphasis on Black joy - I think about how much she wrote and was insistent on really cultivating love in our community for one another and also individually for ourselves... without condition, without, you know, succumbing to outside pressures of who you are supposed to be, but just knowing your worth and who you are yourself. So when I see that circulating on social media, when I see writers - Black women writers in particular - who are hosting healing retreats, I think about "Sisters Of The Yam." And that, to me, is a direct tie or connection to bell and her work.

LUSE: It makes me think about how, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, you noticed - we all noticed - a big spike of interest in bell hooks' work. What do you think it was about that time that drew people to bell hooks?

GREENLEE: We, as a people, as Black people, needed a - ugh, I don't want to get emotional, but I'm feeling it. I think we needed a soft place to land, that we needed someone who could help us make sense of this madness, this violence that has been perpetrated against our community, someone who understood the depth of our grief, who could give us a political analysis also, to hold us and let us know that, you know, this is not us. This is what we're fighting against, but - that you hold value, that you hold worth, that you are loved. You know, she loved Black people. She loved people, but she loved Black people. And she really wanted us to truly be free from violence, from domination in all of its forms.

LUSE: Why do you think people have always turned to her?

GREENLEE: She was blunt, and she was a truth teller. And she wrote so that everybody could understand. Now, you know, she was a theorist, no doubt.

LUSE: Yes.

GREENLEE: You know, she wrote her Ph.D. dissertation on Toni Morrison. I haven't read it.

LUSE: (Laughter).

GREENLEE: We have it here, in the college, in the archives, amongst her papers and it's thick. You know, she was an intellectual, and she could do that theory speak - right? - with the best of them. But for the most part, she was so committed to her work being accessible to the people that she came from, that she grew up with - so she's talking about folk in Kentucky, folk in Appalachia, rural Black folk. She wanted to remain connected to her roots. And so I think with that kind of intention, it becomes an invitation for everyone.

LUSE: Dr. Greenlee, thank you so, so, so much for taking the time to share your memories and to talk with us today. This was amazing and so right on time, I think, for me and also for our listeners, so thank you.

GREENLEE: Well, thank you so much for allowing me to share a little bit of my love for bell and her work in honor of Valentine's Day.

LUSE: That was my conversation with Dr. Gale E. Greenlee, teacher-scholar in residence at the bell hooks center in Berea, Ky.

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LUSE: All right, that's all for this episode of IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Brittany Luse. Talk soon.

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