Gloria Jean Watkins, a pioneering Black feminist intellectual who wrote more than 40 books and is better known by her pen name, bell hooks, has died.
The 69-year-old died at home in Berea, Kentucky on Wednesday, surrounded by family and friends, her family said in a statement.
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Her books, translated into 15 languages, include: Ain’t I a Woman?: Black, Women and Feminism; Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center; All About Love: New Visions; We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity, and Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom.
As a child, hooks attended segregated schools in the southern United States. Her writing and academic work often examined the intersections between race, class and gender.
“The family is honored that Gloria received numerous awards, honors and international fame for her work as a poet, author, professor, cultural critic and social activist,” her family said in the statement. “We are proud to just call her a sister, friend, confidant and influencer.”
Born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky in 1952, hooks was the fourth of seven siblings, her family said. She published her first book of poetry in 1978 and earned a PhD in literature from the University California, Santa Cruz.
The family of @bellhooks is sad to announce the passing of our sister, aunt, great aunt and great great aunt. The author, professor, critic and feminist made her transition early this am from her home, surrounded by family and friends. 🖤
— Enter Ebony (@Enter_Ebony) December 15, 2021
She reportedly used lower case letters for her pen name, borrowed from her great-grandmother, so readers would focus on the substance of her writing, rather than the author herself.
She moved back to Kentucky in 2004 to teach at Berea College after living in other parts of the US.
In 2010, the school opened the bell hooks Institute.
She was inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame in 2018, Berea College said in a statement on Wednesday. Her selection, the college said, elicited this tribute from Neil Chethik, executive director of the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, “bell hooks is one of the most influential cultural critics of our time.”
The school also said the institute in her name “will continue to be a valuable and informative beacon to her life’s work, continuing to remind humans that life is all about love. In her words, ‘To love well is the task in all meaningful relationships, not just romantic bonds.'”
Other tributes to hooks and her work poured in on social media after the announcement of her death.
“I owe bell hooks more than I could ever give … She awakened worlds in me I did not know existed,” the US-based journalist Char Adams wrote on Twitter. Her writing and scholarship “broke ground on so many levels” and remains “radical”, “relevant” and “necessary”, Adams added.
I owe bell hooks more than I could ever give. She helped shape/articulate my politics more than any other scholar. She awakened worlds in me I did not know existed.
Her writing & scholarship broke ground on so many levels & remains radical, relevant, necessary work. RIP bell❤️ pic.twitter.com/BZo4LOr8dO
— CiCi Adams🌸 (@CiCiAdams_) December 15, 2021
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, a professor of African American studies at Princeton University, called hooks’ death “devastating”.
“Black women can never rest and so we die early,” Taylor wrote on Twitter.
UN Women, the United Nations entity for gender equality, thanked hooks for her legacy and “for teaching us that feminism is for everybody”.
Cornell West, a US professor and cultural critic, said hooks was “an intellectual giant, spiritual genius & freest of persons! We shall never forget her!”
Her family members plan to host an event to celebrate her life at a later date.
Thank you bell hooks for your legacy and for teaching us that feminism is for everybody. pic.twitter.com/AtsUNsFwVl
— UN Women 🧡 (@UN_Women) December 15, 2021