bell hooks—prolific feminist theorist, author, and activist—died on Wednesday, December 15. hooks died at home surrounded by friends and family after a period of illness, per Lexington Herald Leader. She was 69. The news was confirmed in a press release sent by her niece, Ebony Motley.
In the piece from Lexington Herald Leader, hooks’ friend Linda Strong Leek writes, “She was one of my dearest friends and the world is a lesser place today without her.”
hooks—birth name Gloria Jean Watkins—was born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky in 1952. She attended segregated schools while growing up, and went on to study at Stanford University. While at Stanford, she wrote the first draft of her debut book Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women And Feminism at 19 years old. She published it a decade later.
This text would lay the foundation for intersectional feminism and Black women’s inclusion in feminist theory. In it, she wrote, “A devaluation of black womanhood occurred as a result of the sexual exploitation of black women during slavery that has not altered in the course of hundreds of years.” Then and now, her work remains radical.
Before publishing Ain’t I A Woman, hooks received an MA in English from the University Of Wisconsin—Madison in 1976, and began her teaching career that year as an English professor and senior lecturer in Ethnic Studies at USC. While teaching there, she published And There We Wept, a chapbook of poems. It was her first time publishing work under the name “bell hooks.”
She chose the name as a way to honor her maternal great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks. As Min Jin Lee wrote for The New York Times, hooks opted to stylize it in lowercase to “shift the attention from her identity to her ideas.”
Over her educational career, she taught courses at the University of Southern California, University of California Santa Cruz, San Francisco State University, Yale, Oberlin College, and City College of New York. In 2004, hooks became a resident professor at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, which would later found the bell hooks Institute on campus in 2014. In 2018, she was inducted into the Kentucky Writers’ Hall of Fame.
Since writing Ain’t I A Woman? in 1981, hooks wrote over thirty books in her lifetime, most of which explored race & class in media, marginalization, feminism, sexuality, and love.
Some of her work includes: Feminist Theory from Margin to Center (1984), Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black (1989), Black Looks: Race and Representation (1992), Killing Rage: Ending Racism (1995), Reel to Real: Race, Sex, and Class at the Movies (1996), and Communion: The Female Search for Love (2002).
She also penned children’s books including Happy To Be Nappy, two memoirs, and appeared in numerous documentaries and films. An avid reader and prolific writer, she’s said she read one non-fiction book a day, and one mystery novel a day.
One of her most widespread theories centers around the oppositional gaze. In Black Looks: Race and Representation, hooks examined the historical domination of Black people in America, and how it was even present in eye contact. With the development of the critical oppositional gaze, Black men and women could set out to change representations of the world around them.
In one of her pivotal works, All About Love: New Visions, hooks lays a foundational definition for love, and how it can be brought and shared in every aspect of everyday life. For her, openly sharing love was one of the most radical things an individual can do in our society.