Trailblazing Black feminist and author bell hooks passed away at 69. She was at end-stage renal failure and died in Berea, KY. Her niece, Ebony Motley, posted on Twitter, confirming the news of her aunt’s death. “The family is honored that Gloria received numerous awards, honors, and international fame for her works as [a] poet, author, feminist, professor, cultural critic, and social activist,” the statement said.
The Legacy of bell hooks
Dr. Hooks sought to empower all races, classes, and genders. She anticipated and shaped ongoing debates about justice and discrimination in the U.S. She became known as one of our country’s leading feminist theorists. Last year Time Magazine referred to her as a “rare rock star of a public intellectual.” In addition, she appeared on countless panels with fellow scholars and expanded her audience through self-help and children’s books.
“To think of certain ways of writing as activism is crucial,” she told Bomb Magazine in 1994. “What does it matter if we write eloquently about decolonization if it’s just White privileged kids reading our eloquent theory about it? Masses of Black people suffer from internalized racism; our intellectual work will never impact on their lives if we do not move it out of the academy.”
Years before the term “intersectionality” gained popularity, Dr. hooks argued that mainstream feminists failed to account for racism, class exploitation, and other forms of discrimination. As a result, she expanded the feminist movement, making room for women of color, working-class women, and others who felt left out of the movement. Dr. Hooks gave a straightforward definition of feminism – “the struggle to end sexist oppression.”
Gloria Jean Watkins was born on September 25th, 1952, in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. She was the fourth of seven siblings. Watkins attended segregated schools in Christian County before going to Stanford University in California. She earned her Master’s Degree in English at the University of Wisconsin and a Doctorate in Literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz. As stated previously, she took her great-grandmother’s name and styled it in lowercase. Watkins wanted readers to focus on the “substance of books, not who I am.”
She was a poet, memoirist, social critic, scholar and wrote more than 30 books. Dr. Hooks mixed the personal and the political as she examined music videos and more. Her first book “Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism,” which she started writing at 19 years old, was published in 1981. The book explored the effects of racism and sexism on African American women from slavery onward.
Dr. Hooks was on the faculty of Berea College since 2004, serving as a distinguished professor in residence in Appalachian studies. In 2010, the school opened the bell hooks Institute at Berea College. Afterward, she was inducted into the Kentucky Writers’ Hall of Fame in 2018. “I want my work to be about healing,” hooks said. “I am a fortunate writer because every day of my life practically I get a letter, a phone call from someone who tells me how my work has transformed their life.”
We send our deepest condolences to her family during this challenging time.