Acclaimed author, activist and intellectual bell hooks, a deeply influential figure in intersectional feminism, has died. According to a press release issued by her niece, Ebony Motley (h/t Lexington Herald Leader), hooks died Wednesday at her home in Berea, Ky., following an undisclosed illness. She was 69.
Born Gloria Jean Watkins on September 25, 1952 in Hopkinsville, Ky., hooks was the fourth of Veodis and Rosa Bell Watkins’ seven children. After a childhood educated in predominantly segregated schools, she would ultimately attend California’s Stanford University, later earning her master’s in English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1976. She began her first book, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, at only 19, reports the Herald Leader. It was during this time she began to use a pen name, borrowing from her great-grandmother’s, Bell Blair Hooks, and refashioning it in lowercase as a signifier of the “substance of books, not who I am,” as she told an interviewer (h/t Lexington Herald Ledger). Ain’t I a Woman was published in 1981; hooks would earn a doctorate in literature from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1983, giving a dissertation on Toni Morrison.
Dozens more books would follow, ranging from manifestos on gender, race and feminism, to meditations on love, sexuality and spirituality, to children’s books. hooks would also become a renowned educator, holding positions as Professor of African-American Studies and English at Yale University, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and American Literature at Oberlin College, and Distinguished Lecturer of English Literature at the City College of New York.
Returning to her native Kentucky in 2004 to join the faculty of Berea College, the South’s first interracial and co-educational college, she chronicled her homecoming in Belonging: A Culture of Place. She would be honored by the college in 2010 with the bell hooks Institute, which “houses her collection of contemporary African-American art, personal artifacts and copies of her books published in other languages,” according to the Herald Leader. hooks also dedicated her papers to Berea in 2017. The bell hooks center opened on its campus in 2021 as “an inclusive space where historically underrepresented students can come to be as they are, outside of the social scripts that circumscribe their living.”
A statement and obituary from the college issued Wednesday read in part: “Berea College is deeply saddened about the death of bell hooks, Distinguished Professor in Residence in Appalachian Studies, prodigious author, public intellectual and one of the country’s foremost feminist scholars.”
hooks famously posited that “feminism is for everybody.”
“I want my work to be about healing,” she said (h/t Herald Leader). “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.” Notably, in addition to being a tremendous influence upon writers, activists and scholars across the world, hooks reportedly left this world surrounded by family and friends. Since news of her death has broken, tributes have continued to pour in.
Rest in power, bell hooks. The Root thanks and salutes you.