‘To me, she’s Gloria Jean’

Gwenda Motley, a retired educator, spoke about her sister, feminist author bell hooks, during History on Tap at Hopkinsville Brewing Co.

Gwenda Motley recalled the first time someone asked her what it was like being the sister of the renowned feminist author bell hooks. Motley was visiting her sister at Yale University, and she had to take a moment to think about the difference between her understanding of sister Gloria Jean Watkins and the world’s understanding of the same woman through her pen name bell hooks.

Gwenda Motley reads from sister bell hooks' book
Gwenda Motley reads from one of her sister bell hooks’ books during her History on Tap presentation at Hopkinsville Brewing Co. (Jennifer P. Brown photo)

Speaking Friday night for the “History on Tap” program at Hopkinsville Brewing Co., Motley shared this remembrance and other stories of her relationship with her sister.

There were six girls and one boy in the family, and from their earliest recollections growing up in Hopkinsville, they knew bell was a “thinker,” Motley described for several dozen people who packed the second floor of the brewery.

Bell was often reading and writing late into the night when the other girls wanted to sleep.

“Make Gloria turn off the lights!” Gwenda would shout downstairs to their parents.

In the summer, the girls walked to the library. Gwenda picked out titles like “Nancy Drew” while bell hauled home stacks of classics.

“She was a reader, a writer and a thinker, even as a child,” Gwenda described.

Today, bell hooks is a scholar at Berea College, where she established the bell hooks institute to connect her work with the place that is her home.

Many of Hooks’ books are available at the Hopkinsville-Christian County Public Library.

Local readers often mention “Bone Black” as a favorite. It is a memoir of her childhood in Hopkinsville.

(Editor’s note: Gwenda Motley serves on the Hoptown Chronicle Board of Directors.)

‘To me, she’s Gloria Jean’

Jennifer P. Brown | Hoptown Chronicle

Jennifer P. Brown is co-founder, publisher and editor of Hoptown Chronicle. You can reach her at editor@hoptownchronicle.org. She spent 30 years as a reporter and editor at the Kentucky New Era. She is a co-chair of the national advisory board to the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, governing board president for the Kentucky Historical Society, and co-founder of the Kentucky Open Government Coalition.