The life, work and legacy of Hopkinsville native Gloria Jean Watkins, known by her pen name, bell hooks, will be commemorated on the grounds of Hopkinsville Community College (HCC). Plans are currently underway to erect a feature to honor Dr. hooks in Round Table Literary Park with fundraising efforts coordinated by the Hopkinsville Community College Foundation culminating in a celebration of hooks on September 25, what would have been the American author, professor, feminist, and social activist’s 70th birthday.
“We are fortunate to have the only known literary park in the United States, right here in Hopkinsville on this campus. bell hooks began her life here in Christian County, and broadened her perspectives and knowledge by immersing herself into the universe of literature. As our community’s post-secondary education provider, and with the asset of our beautiful park, it is a natural fit and a fitting tribute to welcome students and visitors to this campus to learn about bell hooks and visit again the treasures in Round Table Park,” shared HCC President and CEO Dr. Alissa Young.
The history of the beloved park is storied. It was created under the direction of one of the earliest faculty members, the legendary HCC English Professor Frances Thomas. Begun in 1974, Thomas and her students, along with supporters from across the community worked to build the park. The idyllic park, set in a grove of trees, features a Graeco-Roman amphitheater with a sculpture of Melpomene by the late artist Steve Shields, King Arthur’s legendary Sword in the Stone, a 22,000 pound replica of King Arthur’s Round Table complete with 24 seats and elaborate carving in the stone, and a replica of the Tholos of Delphi. The park has suffered some recent damage from vandals, including the theft of the Mask of Tragedy from Melpomene’s hand. College officials are currently making repairs to the damages.
The family of Frances Thomas, who established an endowment some years ago held by the HCC Foundation, are supportive of the new addition to the park. Funds from the endowment, which is restricted for use exclusively in the park, will be used to refurbish existing assets and add technology to help visitors enjoy the park.
“We intend to add code badging to the features in the park that will enable visitors, with just a touch of their smart phone, to learn more about the legend of King Arthur, Merlin and Excalibur, Melpomene and mythology. Addition of this technology will ensure too that visitors learn more about bell hooks and her impact and influence on literature, social justice, racism, classism, sexism and more,” stated HCC Foundation Executive Director Yvette Eastham. “This investment benefits our college community of course, but it also is an asset to the community at large and has the potential to be an attraction to visitors. It’s a tranquil, peaceful place for reflection, learning, reading and we look forward to sharing additional plans to expand Round Table Park as a user friendly asset for our entire community,” she concluded.
The most recent addition to the park was made in 1994, making the bell hooks installation the first in almost 30 years.
The college had been planning to make an addition to the park to honor hooks for a couple of years, and the death of the world renown scholar on December 15 shocked and saddened local staff, who reached out to the Watkins family. Lifelong Hopkinsville resident Gwenda Watkins Motley, hooks’ younger sister, expressed delight at the thought of her sister being remembered permanently in Round Table Literary Park.
“Our sister, Gloria, known to the world as bell hooks was larger than life in every field of endeavor she touched. The family is deeply honored by HCC’s plan to pay tribute to her work in Round Table Literary Park, and we look forward to this installation inspiring future generations to dare to question, to dream, and to do,” stated Motley.
The HCC Foundation is accepting donations and has set a preliminary fundraising goal of $35,000. Donavan Pinner, another Hopkinsville native, the youngest person ever elected to the HCC Foundation Board of Directors, a graduate of Morehouse and presently a student at Princeton Theological Seminary pursuing a Master of Divinity noted, “bell hooks’ works reflect the values of love and the transcending power of education.” Mr. Pinner is one of the chairs of the fundraising committee for the addition to the park. “A favorite hooks’ quote is ‘the classroom is the most radical space of possibility in the academy’ and he expressed excitement about the addition to the park and its potential to inspire future generations.
To make a tax deductible gift to the bell hooks, contact Eastham at (270) 707-3731 for credit/debit card gifts or send payments to the HCC Foundation at P.O. Box 180, Hopkinsville, Kentucky 42241-0180.