Celebrated author, feminist and activist bell hooks has died, aged 69.

The author was surrounded by her close friends and family at home when she died from an illness, a press release from her niece, Ebony Motley, stated.

hooks – real name Gloria Jean Watkins – published her books and scholarly articles under her chosen pen name to honour her maternal great-grandmother, whose name was Bell Blair Hooks.

Watkins opted to stylise the name in lowercase letters in order to focus attention on her ideas as opposed to her identity. She once said that her choice points to the “substance of books, not who I am”.

The author was best known for writing about race, gender and class, as well as the connection between them, which is a principle known as intersectionality. She also wrote about love, spirituality and politics.

Watkins, who was considered an acclaimed cultural critic, published more than 30 books, starting with 1978’s poetry collection And There We Wept, which was published when she was a lecturer at the University of Southern California.

Her other works include 1981’s Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism, which was published when she was 29, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom in 1994, and Rock my Soul: Black People and Self-Esteem in 2003.

She also wrote several children’s books.

Gloria Jean Watkins used her pen name, bell hooks, to honour her great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks

(Getty Images)

Watkins once described feminism as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression”. It is a definition frequently cited by other feminists.

In 2004, she returned to her home state of Kentucky to teach at Berea College, a liberal arts school that does not charge students for tuition.

In 2014, Watkins founded the bell hooks Institute, which houses art and artifacts from her life and work.

Following the announcement of Watkins’ death, many writers have been paying tribute and sharing the theorist’s quotes on social media.

Tressie McMillan Cottom (Thick: And Other Essays) wrote: “Indebted, as we all are to bell hooks,” with Ibram X Kendi (How to Be an Antiracist) stating: “The passing of bell hooks hurts, deeply. At the same time, as a human being I feel so grateful she gave humanity so many gifts. Thank you, bell hooks. Rest in our love.”

Roxane Gay, the author of New York Times best-selling essay collection Bad Feminist, added: “Oh my heart. bell hooks. May she rest in power. Her loss is incalculable.”

Love in Colour author Bolu Babalola called Watkins “an everlasting force”, adding that her words “helped to make me the writer I am, taught me me that there is no shame in centering [sic] love and tenderness, in approaching and embracing it”.

Watkins’ family have said that contributions and memorials can be made to the Christian County Literacy Council via Paypal.

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