Joe Miller Recommends

“No writer has brought America into sharper focus for me than bell hooks,” Miller says. “My biggest epiphanies in recent years have arrived while her books are on my nightstand. Of all of them, Salvation: Black People and Love had the greatest impact because it offers a different perspective of the Civil Rights Movement and, in doing so, gives a clearer sense of the possibilities for this nation, and how close we once came to realizing them.

Love is the ultimate revolutionary force, hooks argues, and it was at full fury in the lives of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, though they were both individually incomplete in their manifestation of it. Malcolm was a prophet of self-love (always vital in a system of oppression such as ours), while Martin helped change the course of history with an ethic of loving thy enemy. Had the two come together — as it appears they were about to do before Malcolm was assassinated — hooks suggests we might well be living in a different world today.

Where I was most touched, however, was in hooks’ suggestion as to who might rise to carry on love’s call: single mothers. As a child of divorce, this resonates deeply with me. But more importantly, I’m humbled and set straight. In America, unwed moms are at best invisible and at worst vilified. Yet they’ve raised most of us. If anyone has the power to shape our world, it’s them.”

Joe Miller is a journalist who lives in Kansas City, Missouri. His first book, Cross-X: A Turbulent, Triumphant Season with an Inner-City Debate Squad, was published October 2006 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.