bell hooks, the influential writer, feminist, poet and cultural critic who popularized intersectionality with works such as “Ain’t I a Woman,” “All About Love,” “Bone Black,” “Feminist Theory” and “Communion: The Female Search for Love,” died Wednesday. She was 69.
Gloria Jean Watkins, known professionally by her lowercase pen name, died at home in Berea, Ky., after an extended illness, according to a family statement from William Morrow Publishers and Berea College in Kentucky, which houses the bell hooks Institute.
hooks’ oeuvre included 40 books published in 15 languages, and the author consistently challenged conventional ways of thinking and being while attempting to illuminate the everyday lives of women.
She published her first book, “There We Wept,” in 1978 using her pen name to honor her great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks, and to allow readers to focus on the substance of her work rather than who she was. (She was told often as a child that her quick thinking and outspokenness were like that of “Granny Bell.”)
The writer regularly tackled difficult subjects, including the differences in feminist thought and practice between white women and women of color, as well as her own tumultuous childhood and the convergence of race, class and gender in the movies.
“No Black woman writer in this culture can write ‘too much.’ Indeed, no woman writer can write ‘too much.’… No woman has ever written enough,” she said in her 1999 book of essays, “Remembered Rapture.”
Born Sept. 25, 1952, and raised in Hopkinsville, Ky., hooks was the fourth of seven siblings born to Veodis and Rosa Bell Watkins. Her love of reading began as a child, and she learned to read and write at an early age. Her sisters, who shared an upstairs bedroom with her, said she would always keep the light on well into the night and they often heard the sounds of her writing or turning a page before appealing to their mother to get her to stop.
“There were many summer days that Gloria led the walk to the public library to checkout books,” her family’s statement said. “While Valeria and Gwenda would find one or two Nancy Drew or other fun books, Gloria always had at least ten books of a more serious nature (Shakespeare, ‘Little Women,’ and other classics). With her intense love for information, her ability to speed read was perfected.
“We will always remember Gloria as having a great thirst for knowledge which she incorporated into her life’s work.”
She attended segregated schools in Kentucky’s Christian County, then went to Stanford University. She later earned a master’s degree in English at the University of Wisconsin and a doctorate in literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She also founded the bell hooks Institute at Berea College, which “celebrates, honors, and documents the life and work” of its namesake. hooks also served as a distinguished professor in residence in Appalachian studies there.
In 2017, she dedicated her papers to Berea College so that future generations would know her work and the impact she had on the intersections of race, gender, place, class and sexuality, the school said. The following year, she was inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.
Her other notable titles include “And There We Wept,” “Salvation,” “The Will to Change,” “Feminism Is for Everybody,” “Where We Stand: Class Matters,” “Killing Rage” and “Teaching to Transgress.”
hooks is survived by her siblings, including sisters Gwenda Motley and Valeria Watkins.
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