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bell hooks obituary

Trailblazing writer, activist and cultural theorist who made a pivotal contribution to Black feminist thought

A trailblazing cultural theorist and activist, public intellectual, teacher and feminist writer, bell hooks, who has died of kidney failure aged 69, authored around 40 books in a career spanning more than four decades. Exploring the intersecting oppressions of gender, race and class, her writings additionally reflected her concerns with issues related to art, history, sexuality, psychology and spirituality, ultimately with love at the heart of community healing.

Using storytelling as effectively as social theory, she was creatively agile in a range of genres, including poetry, essays, memoir, self-help and children’s books, as well as appearing in documentary films and working in academia. However, her outstanding legacy may be her pivotal contribution to Black feminist thought, first articulated in her 1981 book Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, which examined both historical racism and sexism, going back to the treatment of Black women from enslavement to give context to continuing racial and sexual injustice.

The daughter of Veodis Watkins, a postal worker, and his wife, Rosa Bell (nee Oldham), she was born Gloria Jean Watkins in the small rural town of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and her upbringing was affected by being part of a working-class African-American family in the US south, initially educated at racially segregated schools. A gifted child, she enjoyed the poetry of William Wordsworth, Langston Hughes, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Gwendolyn Brooks, and was encouraged to write verse of her own well before she reached her teens. Scholarships enabled her to study at Stanford University, in California, where she earned a BA in English in 1973, and she took an MA in English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1976.

That year she began teaching at the University of Southern California, and during her time there her first publication, the poetry chapbook And There We Wept (1978), appeared under the pseudonym bell hooks – a name she adopted in tribute to her maternal great-grandmother, styling it in lowercase so as to keep the focus on her work rather than on her own persona.

Remembering bell hooks & Her Critique of “Imperialist White Supremacist Heteropatriarchy”

A look at the life and legacy of trailblazing Black feminist scholar and activist bell hooks, who died at the age of 69. Speaking with her longtime colleague Beverly Guy-Sheftall, professor of women’s studies at Spelman College, who remembers her as “a person who would sit with young people and community people and students and help them understand this world in which we live, which is full of all kinds of domination.” Working in the tradition of intersectionality and Black radical feminism, hooks’s critiques of “imperialist white supremacist heteropatriarchy” called attention to the interlocking systems of oppression in hopes of eradicating them, Guy-Sheftall says.

Speaking Freely | Bell Hooks

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