image of Patrice Lawrence, Orange Boy

A Book That Changed my Life | Patrice Lawrence

We all hold memories of books that have sparked our imagination, but is there one special book that has changed your life? We asked the author, Patrice Lawrence to tell us  about a book that had a huge impact on her. Here’s what she shared…

Black Looks: Race and Representation by bell hooks

The writer who changed my life is the African-American academic and cultural theorist, bell hooks. I was a teenager in the 1980s growing up in conservative and Conservative Mid-Sussex. Through the joy of Brighton second-hand bookshops, I bought and inhaled white feminists – Camille Paglia, Germaine Greer, Erica Jong. The latter was particularly educational. Alice Walker’s ‘The Color Purple’ was acquired, with grudge, via my father. (He wanted to laden me with Herman Hesse’s ‘Steppenwolf’, for goodness sake.)

I found Toni Morrison’s Beloved’ on my own. And then on to James Baldwin’s ‘Another Country’. Even now the breadth of that novel and the relationships it depicts, feels astounding.

Yet, still, for me, there was a distance. bell hooks helped me close it. She came late to my life, first when I was a 27-year-old student, new to London, studying English and History of Art at Goldsmiths. Secondly, in my early 30s, a first-time mother, determined to complete my MA in scriptwriting at Sheffield University. Hooks taught me to poke a hole in the white fabric that shaded my world and peek through to the other side. In short, she gave me permission to see the world as a black woman.

hooks’s collection of essays on cultural misappropriation and representation in film was my starter pack. I was used to the fact that people who looked like me were never heroic, never desired (as opposed to objectified or owned), but this deconstruction of ‘race’, gender and class was an eye-opener. But ‘Black Looks’ made me want to cry and it still does. The issues she describes are still raw and unresolved. As the UK cultural industries, including publishing, ponder the illusive concept of diversity, hooks offers her provocative alternative – Within commodity culture, ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture.

She unpicks male privilege and its intersection with ‘race’; she argues that the most powerless white males can raise themselves in the hierarchy at the expense of black men.  As we still try to come to terms with the result of US presidential election voting, it is hard to forget this. She also interrogates construction of male masculinities and some of the destructive behaviours that can shape that identity – a key theme in my debut novel for young adults, ‘Orangeboy’.

Finally, though, these essays made me feel valid. They gave me a voice. And a Distinction for my MA …


Patrice Lawrence is the author of Orange Boy her first novel, which has won the Waterstones Book Prize for Older Children and The Bookseller’s YA Book Prize. The book has been shortlisted for the Costa Book Award and the YA Book Prize, nominated for the Carnegie Award and shortlisted for the Leeds and North East Book Awards. @LawrencePatrice

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