January 30, 2019

The Power of Love in Our Poetry

Annamae Sax and bell hooks at the Tucson Festival of Books

Every March, the University of Arizona hosts the Tucson Festival of Books on its grounds, drawing in authors, vendors, and participants alike in the thousands.The Festival spreads over most of the campus, concentrated on the grassy mall, and billowing white tents are erected to protect everyone from the baking Arizona sun. There’s a tent for almost every college and discipline, with each one known for something different, areas for vendors and local organizations, including other local schools, and an area filled with food trucks for a lunch break.

As a Senior at the U of A in 2018, I became an ambassador for my school, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, representing Gender and Women’s Studies. The SBS tent is renowned at the Festival, drawing in incredible authors and hosting readings with both local and international writers. I was told ahead of time to emotionally and mentally prepare myself, that for the 2018 Festival, we were having bell hooks read in our tent. Our ambassador leader, Jesse, told me far ahead of time so I could make sure to book the event as one I would be working, which I did before he could even finish his sentence, holding back tears and one or two screams.

bell hooks has been pivotal in my life, my activism, and my writing for a long time. Ain’t I a Woman?, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood, Wounds of Passion: a writing life, And there we wept: poems, All About Love: new visions; you name it, her work has impacted me. When I read my first piece of her work, just a simple quote, “I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance,” I felt that feeling of awe, the dawning awakening of something big coming, and I knew I had found someone’s voice that would change my own. bell hooks loves fiercely, unapologetically, and religiously. Love is at the core of everything she does, love is in her writing, her activism, each of her identities, love is in her fear and her anger and her happiness and her hope. That’s the biggest lesson she has taught me: to love with my anger, to love with the same fire that I fight with, and to never stop loving; myself, my family, the people around me, my community, and our big messy world as a whole.

Listening to her speak on that blistering March day in Tucson was heart-wrenching in the best way; her words reverberated into my core, and as she spoke about the current political climate in the world, the accountability of men, her life as a black woman, and the importance of love in our poetry, I soaked each piece of knowledge in like a desert rainstorm.

Above all, hooks is fiercely human, and as I waited in line to meet her after my shift was done, I heard her ask when she could leave for lunch and the leader of our tent said soon. There was only one person left in line, a very scared me, and I approached her table with my book in hand, already star-struck silent.

It makes me laugh to this day, my eager spot in line holding bell back from a lunch she was getting impatient for, yet still greeting me with a smile and holding my hand while I tried to stammer out what she means to me. She signed my copy of All About Love in beautiful cursive and took a photo with me. My time with her was so brief, but I have no doubt she knew what it meant to a scared, angry, learning-to-love-more twenty one year old queer girl. After all, this is the woman that is teaching the world what love itself means, radically and passionately, with no apology for herself or her words. Only love.

Annamae Sax