The prolific and seminal author, poet, feminist, cultural critic and professor Bell Hooks died Wednesday at the age of 69. Her death was the first announced by her niece, Ebony Motley, who said she died at home surrounded by family and friends. No cause of death was reported, but Berea College in Kentucky, where Hooks had taught since 2004, said in a press release that she died after a long illness.
Bell Hooks preferred to write her name without capital letters to emphasize her individual identity. She was born Gloria Jean Watkins on September 25, 1952, the fourth of seven children in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Her pen name was a tribute to her maternal great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks.
She attended segregated schools in her hometown of Christian County, Ky. before earning her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in California, a master’s degree in English from the University of Wisconsin, and a doctorate in literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz , acquired.
She taught at Stanford University, Yale University, Oberlin College in Ohio, and City College of New York before returning to Kentucky to teach at Berea College, which is now home to bell hook center.
The author of more than three dozen books across a wide spectrum, Hooks published her first title, the poetry collection And There We Wept, in 1978. Her influential book Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism followed in 1981. Three years later, her Feminist Theory: From the Edge to the Center examined and critiqued the feminist movement’s tendency to center and privilege the experiences of white women.
Hook’s work frequently explored the deep intersections of race, gender, class, sexuality, and geographic location. She wrote about her native Appalachia and growing up there as a black girl in the critical essay collection Belonging: A Culture of Place and the poetry collection Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place.
In a 2000 interview with All Things Considered, Haken spoken about the life-changing power of love – that is, the act of loving and how love is far more inclusive than romantic feelings. “I’m talking about a love that is transformative, that challenges us in both our personal and civic lives,” she said. “I’m often touched when I think of the civil rights movement because I see it as a great social justice movement that’s rooted in love and has politicized the notion of love, saying, Real love will transform you. “
She continued, “Everywhere I go, people want to feel more connected. They want to feel more connected to their neighbors. You want to feel more connected to the world. And when we learn that through love we can have that connection, we can see the stranger as ourselves, and I think it would be absolutely amazing to have that feeling, “Let’s go back to some sort of utopian focus on love, not unlike the hippie focus on love”. Because I always tell people, you know, the ’60s focus on love had its silly sentimental dimensions, but then it had these life-changing dimensions. When I think about the love of justice that three young people, two Jews and one African-American Christian to go south and fight for justice and give their lives – Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner – I think that’s a quality of love that’s great… I’m saying this young people, you know, we can on love in a deep and profound way that is changing the political world we live in.”
Additional reporting by Steve Smith.