bell hooks – the beloved poet, author, feminist and professor – has died, announced Berea College, the university at which she taught, on Wednesday. She was 69.
“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 college wrote.
hooks passed away in her home after an “extended illness,” according to Berea College.
Known for her writing on race, gender and sexuality, hooks published more than 30 books over the course of her lifetime, including 1981’s “Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism” and “All About Love” in 1999.
Throughout her life, hooks’ dedication to accessible feminist theory remained strong. In a 2015 interview with the New York Times, hooks stated that her main intention was to “produce theory that people could use.”
“I have this phrase that I use, ‘working with the work,’” hooks said. “So if somebody comes up to me, and they have one of those bell hooks books that’s abused and battered, and every page is underlined, I know they’ve been working with the work. And that’s where it is for me.”
Her work widely influenced contemporary writers, many of whom shared their grievances on social media following the announcement.
“As a first generation college student, bell hooks was the first writer I encountered via academia whose work I was able to enthusiastically discuss with friends and fam *outside* academia,” wrote Saeed Jones, author of the award-winning memoir “How We Fight for Our Lives.” “My mom and I read bell hooks together. I’ll always cherish the way her work bridged shores.”
“Oh my heart. bell hooks. May she rest in power. Her loss is incalculable,” wrote Roxane Gay, author of “Bad Feminist.”
“I am heartbroken. bell hooks’ words helped to make me the writer i am, taught me me that there is no shame in centering love and tenderness, in approaching and embracing it. with ferocity,” wrote Bolu Babalola, author of “Love in Colour.” “she is an everlasting force and blessing may she rest in perfect peace.”
Born Gloria Jean Watkins in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, hooks took her pen name from her maternal great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks. She opted to lowercase her name so readers would focus on the “substance of books, not who I am,” she said, during an appearance at Rollins College in 2013. She also explained the choice in a 2011 interview, noting that this idea of “moving away from the idea of the person” was popular in the 1960s and 1970s at the height of the feminist movement.
“It was: let’s talk about the ideas behind the work, and the people matter less. It was kind of a gimmicky thing, but lots of feminist women were doing it,” hooks said. “Many of us took the names of our female ancestors—bell hooks is my maternal great grandmother—to honor them and debunk the notion that we were these unique, exceptional women. We wanted to say, actually, we were the products of the women who’d gone before us.”
She won multiple awards during the course of her career, and taught at multiple universities, most recently at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky.