Bell Hooks dead: Influential feminist author was 69


In the fall of 1993, a scholar and feminist using the pseudonym Bell Hooks participated in a panel discussion at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology entitled “The Responsibility of Intellectuals in the Age of Crack,” moderated by Harvard theologian Rev. Eugen Flusser.

Regina Austin, law professor and one of the panellists, posed the question: “Do African American intellectuals have a special responsibility to address America’s inner-city crisis? I take that as a foregone conclusion, yes.”

Because Haken had something to say about it by the way. “I think that when we talk about ‘elite black intellectuals,’ we’re often talking about a select group of black men,” she said. “If we had all the documents about our salaries and the money we make and what we do, we would see exactly who makes up this ‘elite group of black intellectuals’.”

The audience cheered, applauded and stamped their feet.

“I don’t come here as an intellectual who is alienated from his community,” Hooks continued. “In fact, I think a lot of the types of bridges that have been built between different Black communities have been built by Black women thinkers. But our work gets no attention. So when people say there is a lack of intellectual leadership, part of that lack is the refusal of the masses of people to take on the work that many black women have already done and elevate us to the level of leaders.”

They were classic hooks – confrontational, direct, challenging conventional ways of thinking and being, while instead shedding light on women’s everyday lives.

Throughout her life, the best-selling author, feminist, poet, and cultural critic who popularized intersectionality went far deeper than any single intellectual concept; She has written more than 30 books published in 15 languages ​​exploring the nature of love and the convergence of race, class and gender. Her work has been credited with expanding a feminist movement long criticized for centering white women in the middle and upper classes.

Gloria Jean Watkins, known professionally by her lowercase alias, died Wednesday at her home in Berea, Kentucky, after a prolonged illness, according to a family statement from William Morrow Publishers and Berea College in Kentucky, home of the Bell Hooks Institute located. She was 69.

“We will always remember Gloria as the great thirst for knowledge that she poured into her life’s work,” her family said. Hooks is survived by her siblings, including sisters Gwenda Motley and Valeria Watkins.

Roxane Gay, Ibram X. Kendi, Clint Smith and Cornel West were also among those mourning the death of Hook on Wednesday.

“bell hooks was an extraordinary writer, thinker and scholar who gave us a new language to understand the world around us,” wrote Smith, author of How the Word Is Passed, on Twitter. “Her work was imbued with a deep commitment to speaking the truth, but also with a deep sense of caring and love for the community. She was a darling.”

West, the longtime scholar and racial justice activist, recalled Hooks on Twitter as “an intellectual giant, a spiritual genius, and the freest person.” “We will never forget her!”

Hooks published her first book And There We Wept in 1978, in which she used her pen name in honor of her great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks, and in lowercase, signaling that readers should not focus on the substance of her work, who she was. (As a child, she was often told that her quick thinking and outspokenness reminded relatives of Granny Bell.)

She wrote some of the most celebrated works in feminist literature, including Ain’t I a Woman, All About Love, Bone Black, Feminist Theory, and Communion: The Female Search for Love.

Hooks was a voracious reader of psychology, spirituality, and self-help books on self-esteem; Love was at the heart of her work – particularly her transformative power in the lives of black Americans.

“Love redeems,” Hooks wrote in her 1999 book All About Love: New Visions. “Despite all the lovelessness that surrounds us, nothing could stop our longing for love, the intensity of our longing. Understanding that love redeems seems like a resilient aspect of heart knowing.”

Hooks followed that book with Salvation: Black People and Love in 2001. Through historical and cultural lenses, Hooks writes about the love embedded in American powers as diverse as slavery, Malcolm X, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the movie As Good as It Gets, hip-hop and the novels of Terry McMillan and Omar Tyree.

In her 1992 book, Black Looks: Race and Representation, Hooks explained the purpose of her cultural critique: “It struck me that the pain for black people to learn is that we cannot control our images of how we see ourselves (when ours vision is not decolonized) or how we are seen is so intense it tears us apart. It tears and tears at the seams of our efforts to construct and identify ourselves.”

The fourth of seven children, Gloria Jean Watkins was born on September 25, 1952 in Hopkinsville, Kentucky to Veodis and Rosa Bell Watkins, a caretaker and housekeeper respectively. Her love of reading and writing began in early childhood. Her sisters, who shared an upstairs bedroom with her, said she left the lights on well into the night. The sounds of their writing or turning the pages distracted them from sleep until they asked their mother to get them to stop.

“There were many summer days when Gloria made her way to the public library to borrow books,” her family said in a statement. “While Valeria and Gwenda would find a Nancy Drew book or two 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 of information, her ability to read quickly has been perfected.”

But her mother, well aware of her intelligence, kept her bright daughter in check.

“I was a gifted kid in a household that didn’t care about differences,” Hooks once said. “When I was a kid, my mom used to say that being smart doesn’t make you better.”

Hooks attended segregated schools in Kentucky’s Christian County and then attended Stanford University in 1973. There, as a 19-year-old student working as a telephone operator, Hooks wrote the first draft of “Ain’t I a Woman,” borrowing the title from Sojourner Truth’s now-famous speech.

The demands of school and work made it difficult for the young scholar to find time to write, but the job brought her a community of working-class black women.

“You supported and validated the project,” she once wrote, “the kind of support I had not found in a university. They didn’t care about my credentials, my writing skills, my degrees. They wanted, like me, someone to say the kinds of things about our lives that would bring about change or further understanding.”

About 10 years later, in 1981, after receiving a master’s degree in English from the University of Wisconsin and a doctorate in literature from UC Santa Cruz, Ain’t I a Woman was published. It has since become a classic work of feminist scholarship on the nature of black womanhood.

Min Jin Lee, author of National Book Award finalist Pachinko and a former Hooks student at Yale, was deeply impressed by her professor’s book.

“For me, reading ‘Ain’t IA Woman’ was like someone in my head opened the door and windows and pulled up the roof,” she wrote in a 2019 essay for the New York Times. “I am neither white nor black, but through their theories I was able to understand that my body contained historical variety and any analysis without such measured consideration was limited and deeply flawed.”

From the mid-1970s to around 2011, Hooks lectured at various colleges and universities across the country, including USC, UC Riverside, Occidental College, San Francisco State University, UC Santa Cruz, Yale University, and Ohio State University.

At Berea College, where she was Distinguished Professor in Residence of Appalachian Studies, she founded the Bell Hooks Institute, which “celebrates, honors, and documents the life and work of its namesake.”

In 2017, she dedicated her papers to Berea College so future generations would know of her work and the impact it had on the intersections of race, gender, location, class and sexuality, the school said. The following year, she was inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.

Hooks has also been involved in film and television documentaries, including IFC’s BaadAsssss Cinema (2002), about blaxploitation in the 1970s, and HBO’s Happy to Be Nappy and Other Stories of Me, a 2004 adaptation of some of her children’s books she wrote and acted as herself.

She often wrote about life experiences that fueled her openness and ideas. At a young age, Hooks took after her great-grandmother, a woman who disagreed and wasn’t afraid to speak her mind.

“People who know me in real life and in the unreal life of the books can witness a bold frankness in language that often marks me and becomes what I am known for,” she wrote in her 1989 collection Talking Back : Thinking Feminist, Think Black.”

“I’ve always said the wrong thing, asked the wrong questions. I could not limit my speech to the necessary nooks and crannies of life.” Bell Hooks dead: Influential feminist author was 69

Caroline Bleakley

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