bell hooks, the activist, poet, feminist and author, died on 15 Decemberat her home in Berea, Kentucky of an undisclosed illness. She was 69. She was surrounded by friends and family at the time of her death.
Her niece, Ebony Motley, posted a statement on Twitter confirming the news of her death.
“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,” the statement said.
Born on 25 September 1952, in Hopkinsville, Kentucky her real name was Gloria Jean Watkins and she was the fourth of seven siblings. She loved writing and eventually earned a master’s degree in English at the University of Wisconsin and a doctorate degree in literature from the University of Santa Cruz.
It was then that she adopted the pen name bell hooks–which was her great-grandmother’s name Bell Blair Hooks for her writing. However, hooks deliberately styled her own name with lower case letters to focus attention on her message rather than herself. She said she wanted readers to focus on the “substance of books, not who I am”.
hooks released her first book in 1981, titled Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism. In her career, she wrote more than 40 books that included works of poetry, memoir and cultural criticism; five children’s books and chapters in various feminist texts. Her books spanned various topics to include feminism, racism, socio-politics, capitalism, politics, gender roles, and sexuality. In particular, she wrote about how a person’s race, gender and social class were interconnected.
After her schooling, she returned to Kentucky to teach at the local college in the town she grew up in, and in one of her books, she discusses this transition to moving back home. In 2010, Berea College opened an institute named after the author which houses collections of her books, and poetry published in English and other languages.
Hooks is also known for coining the term The Oppositional gaze, which comes from her 1992 essay collection book Black Looks: Race and Representation. The Oppositional gaze is in relation to political rebellion and resistance against the repression of a Black person’s right to look, observe, and criticise. This concept is a tool that Black people use to disrupt the power dynamic that white cinema uses to perpetuate the Othering of Blackness in media.
In 2018, hooks was inducted into the Kentucky Writers’ Hall of Fame, and at the induction ceremony, she told columnist Tom Eblen what she wanted the future of the bell hooks institute to look like. “Lots of people aren’t comfortable coming on college campuses for a talk. They feel like that’s not their place,” she said. The thing about the institute is that its goal is to be this sort of democratic location. No degrees required.”