Remembering bell hooks: Beloved Feminist Author And Poet

Beloved feminist author bell hooks, born Gloria Jean Watkins, died at home in Kentucky according to her family. Known for ‘Ain’t I A Woman’ and ‘All About Love’, she was 69 years old.

The author’s family confirmed her death to USA TODAY, saying she died Wednesday morning. 

“We sadly confirm that our sister Gloria Jean Watkins (bell hooks) passed away at her home in Berea KY in the early morning hour today. She chose cremation so a celebration of life service will be at a later time,” her family said in a statement Wednesday. 

Born Gloria Jean Watkins in Hopkinsville, Kentucky she went on to pen many literary works under the pseudonym bell hooks, a tribute to her great-grandmother that she chose to write using lowercase letters to focus attention on her words rather than herself. After receiving a Bachelors’ degree from Stanford University, a Master’s from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her doctorate a the University of California – Santa Cruz. 

Hooks went on to teach at many institutions while harnessing a career in literature and penning more than 30 books. She educated minds at Yale University, Oberlin College and City College of New York. She joined the Berea College faculty in 2004 and a decade later founded the center named for her, where “many and varied expressions of difference can thrive.”

Starting in the 1970s, hooks published books that helped shape popular and academic discourse. Rejecting the isolation of feminism, civil rights and economics into separate fields, she was a believer in community and connectivity and how racism, sexism and economic disparity reinforced each other.

Her first published work under bell hooks was a collection of poems “And There We Wept” which was released in 1978.

In 1981 she published “Aint I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism” which examines the nature of Black feminism through the lens of sexism and slavery. She went on to write more books studying the topic including “Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center” and “Feminism is for Everybody.” Among her most famous expressions was her definition of feminism, which she called “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.”

bell hooks

Her early influences ranged from James Baldwin and Sojourner Truth to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Martin Luther King was my teacher for understanding the importance of beloved community. He had a profound awareness that the people involved in oppressive institutions will not change from the logics and practices of domination without engagement with those who are striving for a better way,” she said in an interview that ran in Appalachian Heritage in 2012.

Hooks examined how stereotypes influence everything from movies (“the oppositional gaze”) to love, writing in “All About Love” that “much of what we were taught about the nature of love makes no sense when applied to daily life.” She also documented at length the collective identity and past of Black people in rural Kentucky, a part of the state often depicted as largely white and homogeneous.

Her writing went on to collect many awards and accolades including the American Book Award in 1991 for “Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics.” In 2013, she was honored with the Best Poetry Award by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association for her book “Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place.”

The literary community shared an outpouring of tributes to hooks on social media. 

“Oh my heart. bell hooks,” wrote acclaimed writer Roxane Gay. “May she rest in power. Her loss is incalculable.”

Ibram X. Kendi, the award-winning author of “How To Be An Antiracist,” tweeted that hooks’ passing “hurts, deeply.

“At the same time, as a human being I feel so grateful she gave humanity so many gifts. AIN’T I A WOMAN: BLACK WOMEN AND FEMINISM is one of her many classics. And ALL ABOUT LOVE changed me. Thank you, bell hooks. Rest in our love.”

“She was an intellectual giant, spiritual genius & freest of persons! We shall never forget her!” tweeted writer and activist Cornel West, mourning his “very dear sister bell hooks.” 

“2021 is doing entirely too much,” added “Real Life” author Brandon Taylor. “I rebuke this news about the great bell hooks.”

Writer and sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom tweeted she is “indebted, as we all are to bell hooks.”

“As a first generation college student, bell hooks was the first writer I encountered via academia whose work I was able to enthusiastically discuss with friends and fam *outside* academia,” wrote Saeed Jones, the 2019 recipient of the Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction. “My mom and I read bell hooks together. I’ll always cherish the way her work bridged shores.”

“We lost bell hooks,” wrote Lisa Lucas, head of Pantheon & Schocken Books. “The heart breaks.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: bell hooks, ‘Aint I A Woman’ and ‘All About Love’ author dies at 69

 

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