bell hooks, Renowned Author and Feminist, Dead at 69

bell hooks, Renowned Author and Feminist, Dead at 69
Getty Images/Anthony Barboza

Acclaimed author and activist bell hooks died on Wednesday. She was 69.

"The family of bell hooks is sad to announce the passing of our sister, aunt, great aunt and great great aunt," hooks' family said in the statement. "The family is honored that Gloria received numerous awards, honors, and international fame for her works as poet, author, feminist, professor, cultural critic, and social activist. We are proud to just call her sister, friend, confidant, and influencer." 

Her family did not release a cause of death, but said she had friends and family by her side.

Born Gloria Jean Watkins on Sept. 25, 1952, in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, hooks dedicated much of her work and scholarship to her experience as a Black woman in America. Her pen name, purposefully left lowercase, was a tribute to her maternal great-grandmother Bell Blair Hooks, according to her family. 

She published her first book of poems, And There We Wept, in 1978. The author went on to release over 40 books, including essays, poetry and children's books that covered culture, politics, relationships, gender roles and spirituality. Her work on the intersection of race and gender, as well as her early writing on feminist theory -- including her 1984 work, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center --, have been critically lauded and incorporated into both classrooms and popular culture. 

In 2004, hooks returned to Kentucky to teach at Berea College, which opened the bell hooks Institute at Berea College in 2010. The institute houses her collection of contemporary African-American art, personal artifacts and copies of her books published in other languages.

"Berea College is deeply saddened about the death of bell hooks, Distinguished Professor in Residence in Appalachian Studies, prodigious author, public intellectual and one of the country’s foremost feminist scholars," the school said in a statement, revealing that hooks died following an undisclosed illness.  

"Berea College is grateful for her contributions to the campus community and will celebrate her life and legacy through the bell hooks center that opened on campus in fall 2021. The bell hooks Institute at Berea College will continue to be a valuable and informative beacon to her life's work, continuing to remind humans that life is all about love. In her words, 'To love well is the task in all meaningful relationships, not just romantic bonds.'"

hooks' work has been nominated for the National Book Award for Fiction, for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry and an NAACP Image Award. According to The Poetry Foundation, she won several awards, including the Writer's Award from the Lila-Wallace Reader's Digest Fund and was named one of our nation's leading public intellectuals by The Atlantic Monthly.

Fans and colleagues of hooks grieved the writer's loss Wednesday. 

"William Morrow Publishers mourns the loss of bell hooks, New York Times best-selling author, cherished teacher, public intellectual, cultural critic and visionary," hooks' lifelong publisher said in a statement. 

"Oh my heart. bell hooks," acclaimed writer Roxane Gay wrote. "May she rest in power. Her loss is incalculable."

Ibram X. Kendi, award-winning author of How to Be an Antiracist, tweeted that hooks' death "hurts, deeply."

"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. AIN’T I A WOMAN: BLACK WOMEN AND FEMINISM is one of her many classics. And ALL ABOUT LOVE changed me. Thank you, bell hooks. Rest in our love," he wrote.

Writer and activist Cornel West tweeted that he was mourning his "very dear sister bell hooks." 

"This sad season of massive deaths is nearly killing me! From my precious Mom to five eulogies in one week, and now my very dear sister bell hooks! She was an intellectual giant, spiritual genius & freest of persons! We shall never forget her!" he wrote.

Author and MacArthur fellow Tressie McMillan Cottom wrote that we are all "indebted" to the late author.

"The entirety of my intellectual and creative project is this: 'marginality [is] much more than a site of deprivation; in fact I was saying just the opposite, that it is also the site of radical possibility, a space of resistance.' Indebted, as we all are to bell hooks," Cottom wrote.

A celebration of life will be announced later. The late author's family asked that any contributions and memorials 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.


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