Born: September 25, 1952, Hopkinsville, Kentucky
Died: December 15, 2021, Berea, Kentucky
Gloria Jean Watkins, better known by her uncapitalized pen name, bell hooks, is a prolific writer and teacher who has spent her life developing constructs where scholars, activists and readers can try to bridge divides of gender, culture and race.
She was born and reared in a Christian County neighborhood where folks got by with few resources. She says her maternal grandmother made soap, dug fishing worms, set traps for rabbits, made butter and wine, sewed quilts, and wrung the necks of chickens. She believes her home community turned the hardships created by racial segregation and racism into a source of strength.
She was one of six siblings: five sisters and a brother. Her father, Veodis Watkins, worked as a janitor. Her mother, Rosa Bell Oldham Watkins, worked as a maid in the homes of white families. Young Gloria was taught in a segregated school by strong teachers, mostly single black women, who helped to shape their students’ self-esteem. By the time she was 10, hooks had begun writing her own poetry and soon earned a reputation for her ability to recite poetry.
She developed a strong sense of self that allowed her to speak out against racism and sexism. She is a poet, fictionist, and is most well-known as a writer of critical essays on systems of domination. After high school, she accepted a scholarship to Stanford University, in California. During her early college years, she began her book, Ain’t I a Woman, which examines how black women, throughout modern history, have been oppressed by white men, black men, and white women. The book became central in discussions of racism and sexism. Eleven years later, Publishers Weekly ranked it among the 20 most-influential women’s books of the previous 20 years.
She obtained her B.A. in English from Stanford in 1973 and her M.A. in English from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1976. In 1983, she completed her doctorate in literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz, with a dissertation on author Toni Morrison. It was in her role as a teacher that hooks felt she was doing her most important work. She knew that for a people historically and legally denied the right to education, teaching was one of the most substantial forms of political resistance she could choose.
After holding various positions at the University of California in Santa Cruz, in the early 1980s, hooks left for Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, where she had the opportunity to teach African American studies. In 1988, she joined the faculty at Oberlin College in Ohio, where she taught women’s studies. In 1995, she accepted a post with the City College of New York. She currently serves as distinguished professor in residence at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, where she has the bell hooks Institute.
Her awards include: American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation (1991), for Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics; Writer’s Award, Lila Wallace/Reader’s Digest Fund (1994); Image Award nomination, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (2001), for Happy to Be Nappy; Children’s Book of the Year designation, Bank Street College (2002), for Homemade Love.
Ain’t I a Woman? Black women and feminism(1981)
Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center(1984)
Talking Back: Thinking Feminist,Thinking Black(1989)
Yearning:Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics(1990)
Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life, with Cornel West (1991)
Black Looks: Race and Representation(1992)
Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery(1993)
Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom(1994)
Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations(1994)
Killing Rage: Ending Racism(1995)
Art on My Mind: Visual Politics(1995)
Reel to Real: Race, Sex, and Class at the Movies(1996)
Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood(1996)
Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life(1997)
Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work(1999)
Justice: Childhood Love Lessons(2000)
All About Love: New Visions(2000)
Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics(2000)
Where We Stand: Class Matters(2000)
Salvation: Black People and Love(2001)
Communion: The Female Search for Love(2002)
Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope.New York: Routledge, 2003.
Rock my soul: Black people and self-esteem. New York: Atria Books, 2003.
The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. New York: Atria Books, 2004.
We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Soul Sister: Women, Friendship, and Fulfillment. Cambridge, Massachusetts: South End Press, 2005.
Belonging: A Culture of Place. New York: Routledge, 2009.
Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom. New York: Routledge, 2010.
Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2012.
Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice. New York: Routledge, 2013.
Happy to be nappy, with illustrator Chris Raschka. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 1999.
Homemade Love, with illustrator Shane W. Evans. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 2002.
Be Boy Buzz, with illustrator Chris Raschka. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 2002.
Skin Again, with illustrator Chris Raschka. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 2004.
Grump Groan Growl, with illustrator Chris Raschka. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 2008.
bell hooks Institute at Berea College: