bell hooks, the activist, author, groundbreaking intersectional feminist theorist, and professor, died on December 15 at her home in Berea, Ky. She was 69.
hooks (the pen name of Gloria Jean Watkins) came to prominence in the early 1980s, offering a critique of the prevailing conventions of white feminism that anticipated the concept of intersectionality, which emphasizes understanding the impact of race, gender, and class on the prevailing systems of social and economic oppression. Her critique of white supremacy, capitalism, and conventional feminism was driven by a focus on the historic suffering, oppression, and devaluation of the lives of black women, a grim legacy of slavery that continues into the present.
hooks was born in Hopkinsville, Ky., and educated in Jim Crow era public schools in the period prior to racial integration. She graduated from Stanford University in 1973 and received a doctorate in English from the University of California, Santa Cruz (her dissertation was on nobel laureate and novelist Toni Morrison), in 1983.
hooks published her first book, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (South End Press), an examination of impact of racism and sexism on black women, in 1981. She took the pen name bell hooks to honor the memory of her great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks. hooks would go on to write more than 30 books focused on such topics as feminist theory, black masculinity, and patriarchy. But her work was also driven by empathy and a drive to understand the impact of social oppression on personal development. Her books included works of poetry, memoir, interviews, and movie reviews, as well as essays on community, love, hope, literacy, and popular culture.
Among her many works are And There We Wept: Poems (1978, Golemics), Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (1978, South End Press), Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (1990, South End Press), Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood (1996, Henry Holt), We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity (2004, Routledge), and (with Stuart Hall and a foreword by Paul Gilroy) Uncut Funk: A Contemplative Dialogue (2018, Routledge). She is also the author of a number of children’s books, among them, Skin Again with illustrator Chris Raschka (2004, Hyperion) and Grump Groan Growl, also with Raschka (2008, Hyperion).
Considered a transformative Black feminist scholar, theoretician, and intellectual culture hero, hooks’s formidable legacy was hailed by a wide range of authors and readers and in such publications as the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, the Smithsonian magazine, and many others.
Contributions can be made in hooks’s memory to the Christian County Literacy Council, which promotes reading, or the Museums of Historic Hopkinsville Christian Country, where a biographical exhibit on hooks is on display. A memorial service in celebration of her life will be announced at a later date.