PW: What motivated you to write Rock My Soul?
bell hooks: My audience gave me the idea during my last tour. I was speaking about the importance of love in our lives and a few people said, "We can't get to love because we don't have the basics down. We don't have any self-esteem." You can't love another person if you don't love yourself. It's not like any other group is better than us. Others understand it is something that must be addressed, whereas blacks often deny its existence.
PW: Why should African-Americans be concerned about self-esteem?
bh: You see a lot of blacks experiencing low self-esteem, although they have more opportunities than their parents and grandparents ever had. They have more education and make more money, yet they still feel this deep depression of the self. We need to address that sense of not feeling worthy that is at the core of us. If we can't tell the truth, we will never heal.
PW: How should readers approach this problem?
bh: My approach is not to place blame. We must take a realistic, objective look at how we feel about ourselves and how we live in the world. You know, our parents faced a more lethal, powerful racism, but they had a far healthier self-esteem. My question to readers is, how can we analyze, improve and heal that injured part of ourselves?
PW: You draw on various sources, including therapist John Bradshaw, the Dalai Lama, Jesuit priest Henry Nouwen, psychiatrist Judith Herman, psychoanalyst and philosopher Frantz Fanon, poet Haki Madhubuti and Nathaniel Brandon, a disciple of Ayn Rand. How do you find and embrace these people's work?
bh: A part of what makes my books unusual is that I bring together standpoints that are different or diverse. I'm fascinated with how different views and opinions converge. I'm like a scientist working in a lab, trying to bring together all of these various elements to reach some sort of truth.
PW: Your current quest—tackling real life problems and moving away from your earlier books' abstract and theoretical style—has brought you some criticism. Where did the feminist, revolutionary bell hooks go?
bh: When I wrote my theoretical books, I assumed people had it together, that they were on the same journey as I was. Then I saw some of the negative psychological fallout among my people, the collective hurt and trauma. I saw that theory and practice are not the same. I moved toward a more accessible language that addressed a wider audience. When I get letters from readers who say my books opened up debate and introspection among them and their loved ones, I feel affirmed.
PW: You writing glowingly of values, ideals and integrity—all words usually associated with conservatives or the religious right. Have you mellowed over the years?
bh: No. The left has to speak of values and of spiritual matters. It seems they have given this role up to the right. I just want to pose some meaningful questions. When I went to liberal publishers with my recent books, they asked me, "Who is the audience for them?" I'm amazed at the huge response to my recent books. People buy two and three copies of them at once. We are seeking a way to heal.