bell hooks, author and activist, dies aged 69
Gloria Jean Watkins, better known by her pen name bell hooks, has died aged 69.
Her niece Ebony Motley tweeted: “The family of @bellhooks is sad to announce the passing of our sister, aunt, great aunt and great great aunt.”
She also attached a statement, which said that “the family of Gloria Jean Watkins is deeply saddened at the passing of our beloved sister on December 15, 2021. The family honored her request to transition at home with family and friends by her side.”
The author, professor and activist was born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky in 1952, and published more than 30 books in her lifetime, covering topics including race, feminism, capitalism and intersectionality.
She adopted her maternal great-grandmother’s name as a pen name, since she so admired her, but used lowercase letters to distinguish herself from her family member. hooks’ first major work Ain’t I a Woman? was published in 1981, and became widely recognised as an important feminist text. It was named one of the twenty most influential women’s books in the last 20 years by Publishers Weekly in 1992.
She went on to write Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center in 1984, All About Love: New Visions in 2000 and We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity in 2004, continuing to draw on themes of feminism, race, love and gender.
Since 2004, she taught at Berea College in Kentucky, a liberal arts college that offers free tuition.
In 2016 hooks criticised Beyoncé’s album Lemonade in the Guardian, calling it “capitalist money-making at its best”, and wrote that “to truly be free, we must choose beyond simply surviving adversity, we must dare to create lives of sustained optimal wellbeing and joy.”
“I want my work to be about healing,” she said in 2018 when she was inducted into the Kentucky Writers’ Hall of Fame. “I am a fortunate writer because every day of my life practically I get a letter, a phone call from someone who tells me how my work has transformed their life.”
hooks’s family stated that “the family is honored that Gloria received numerous awards, honors, and international fame for her works as a poet, author, feminist, professor, cultural critic, and social activist. We are proud to just call her sister, friend, confidant, and influencer.”
“Oh my heart,” writer Roxane Gay tweeted in response to the news. “bell hooks. May she rest in power. Her loss is incalculable.”
Margaret Atwood told the Guardian: “bell hooks embodied amazing courage and deeply felt intelligence. In finding her own words and power, she inspired countless others to do the same. Her dedication to the cause of ending ‘sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression’ was exemplary.”
The author of The Handmaid’s Tale added “Her impact extended far beyond the United States: many women from all over the world owe her a great debt.”
Meanwhile Aminatta Forna, Scottish and Sierra Leonean writer, remembered meeting hooks in the early 90s. “I met bel hooks as a young reporter when I was sent to interview her for the BBC’s Late Show”, she said.
“She took care to put me at my ease, played music, made tea for us and complained about not being able to find anyone to braid her hair where she lived in the Greenwich Village. In the ensuing interview she predicted the so-called ‘culture wars,’ which I guess now, looking back, had already begun in the US. She said that one day the centre would have to shift. And she was right.”
Broadcaster and writer Afua Hirsch commented that “reading bell hooks was an experience of profound relief. She had powerfully identified and articulated, with characteristic intellectual rigour, phenomena which I instinctively perceived but had never seen vocalised.”
She added: “and yet as a young black woman, it was bell’s generosity in sharing her own experience of love, sexuality and gender that provided the conduit for her work to reach me in such a personal and direct way. She exploded the false binary between the personal and the academic through her truth telling, and it continues to inspire me to this day.
hooks’ family said that contributions and memorials can be made to the Christian County Literacy Council which promotes reading for children or the Museums of Historic Hopkinsville Christian County where a biographical exhibit is on display.