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Acclaimed author and activist bell hooks died on Wednesday. She was 69.
Hooks, whose real name was Gloria Jean Watkins, was born on Sept. 25, 1952, in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Her first published work, a book of poems titled “And There We Wept,” was released in 1978. She went on to publish her first book “Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism” in 1981.
Berea College in Kentucky, where hooks worked as a professor, said she died following an undisclosed illness.
“bell came into the life of many Bereans in 2004 to help the College get closer to its Great Commitments, particularly the Fifth Great Commitment focused on the kinship of all people and interracial education; the Sixth Great Commitment dedicated to gender equality; and the Eighth Great Commitment centered on service to Appalachia,” the school wrote in a statement.
“In 2017, bell dedicated her papers to Berea College, ensuring that future generations of Bereans will know her work and the impact she had on the intersections of race, gender, place, class and sexuality.”
Hooks wrote under the pen name bell hooks after her great-grandmother Bell Blair Hooks.
Her work includes some 40 books, many of which focused on topics of feminism and race. She was the winner of 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, according to The Poetry Foundation.
According to the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame, where she was inducted in 2018, hooks began writing poetry at age 10. As a young person, she developed a strong voice against racism and sexism, which later filtered into her dozens of books and essays on the intersections of race, gender, class, and systems of oppression and power.
Hooks began her groundbreaking book on Black feminism, “Ain’t I a Woman” as a student at Stanford University, where she graduated in 1973. She went on to earn a master’s degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and later earned a doctorate in literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her doctoral dissertation was on the author Toni Morrison.
After teaching at UC-Santa Cruz, hooks taught African American studies at Yale in 1988 and went on to Oberlin College, where she taught women’s studies. Before settling at Berea College in Kentucky, she also taught at City College of New York.
Over the course of her career, her books introduced many to feminist thought, especially forms of feminism that was more inclusive to the lives and concerns of Black women and women of color. But some of her most influential writing was about love, particularly in a series of books published in the early 2000s.
“I want my work to be about healing,” she said in 2018, according to The Lexington Herald-Leader. “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.”
This is a developing story; check back for updates.
Minyvonne Burke is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.
Michelle Garcia is the editorial director of NBCBLK
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