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bell hooks, Award-Winning Author and Poet, Dies at 69

Academic’s real name was Gloria Jean Watkins

Gloria Jean Watkins, an author, poet and acclaimed feminist icon and academic best known by her pen name bell hooks, has died. She was 69.

Her sisters announced the news Wednesday via a press release confirming hooks died at her home in Berea, Kentucky with her family and friends by her side.

Under her pen name bell hooks, which derives from her maternal great-grandmother Blair Bell Hooks’ name and is lower-cased in order to make the distinction, hooks published her first book of poems, “And There We Wept,” in 1978. She’s the author of over 40 books that have been published in 15 different languages. Her work about the intersection of race and gender and her early writing about feminist theory, including the 1984 text “Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center,” has been highly influential and made its way into both classrooms and popular culture.

hooks’ first major work was “Ain’t I A Woman? Black Women and Feminism.” The book was published in 1981 but was something that Watkins had written as an undergraduate in college, examining the effect of racism and sexism on Black women in particular, discussing how racism and sexism of female Black figures and activists extended all the way back to slavery and has contributed to how it still has remnants today.

In 2000, hooks wrote “Feminism Is For Everybody” and defined a clear goal for feminism as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.” That definition continues to be championed and reconsidered to this day. She opens the book with an anecdote about how women were frequently quick to say that they’re not like “real” feminists who hate men or who are angry, inspiring her to write something that could explain in clear terms what feminism is about.

Born into a segregated town in Kentucky in the 1950s and raised in segregated schools in her community, hooks would frequently write about making the shift from segregated schools to integrated ones, albeit with still largely white teachers and professors, as she reached college. She has degrees from Stanford, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of California, Santa Cruz.

hooks’ work has been nominated for the National Book Award for Fiction, for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry and for an NAACP Image Award.

Since 2004, hooks joined Berea College as a distinguished professor in residence and would frequent feminist discussion groups and lecture series, and she’s participated in conversations with Gloria Steinem, Laverne Cox and many more.