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Pioneering author bell hooks died in her Kentucky home on Wednesday, at the age of 69. Her family confirmed her death, noting that the cause was end-stage renal failure.

The artist and author was known for not using capital letters in spelling her name, as she wanted readers to focus on her words rather than her name. Ms. hooks wrote on Black feminism, claiming the narrative of feminism away from the dominant White culture, starting in the 1980s. 

Her first book, written in 1981, was “Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism,” which reflected on the challenges of Black working women across the country. She followed that up with further writings on the subject, bringing to light the myriad experiences of working-class Black women through the lens of feminist critique and thought. 

bell hooks
[ JIM REED | Tampa Bay Times ]

A trailblazing Black feminist

According to Kimberle Crenshaw, who is known for coining the term, “intersectionalism,” “I think of bell hooks as being pivotal to an entire generation of Black feminists who saw that for the first time they had license to call themselves Black feminists. She was utterly courageous in terms of putting on paper thoughts that many of us might have had in private.”

While Ms. hooks wrote prolifically on Black feminism, she also addressed a wide range of topics through her writing, including racism, capitalism, body image, and love. She wrote memoirs, fiction, poetry, and even children’s books.

Ms. hooks earned her Bachelor’s degree at Stanford University, along with a Master’s from the University of Wisconsin-Madison — and a doctorate from the University of California – Santa Cruz. She took on the name bell hooks to honor her great-grandmother, who had a positive impact on Ms. hooks’ life. 

She went on to work as a professor at Oberlin College, City College of New York, and Berea College in Kentucky, where she spent her final years. Ms. hooks later founded a center at Berea College, named in her honor. 

Inspired by civil rights leaders

Ms. hooks was honored with many awards for her writing across her nearly-40-year career. In an interview, she noted that one of her inspirations was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, stating, “Martin Luther King was my teacher for understanding the importance of beloved community. He had a profound awareness that the people involved in oppressive institutions will not change from the logics and practices of domination without engagement with those who are striving for a better way.” 

She was also deeply influenced by Sojourner Truth and James Baldwin. 

Ms. hooks herself was an inspiration to many contemporary authors and intellectuals, including Roxane Gay, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, and Dr. Cornel West. Wrote Dr. West, “She was an intellectual giant, spiritual genius & freest of persons! We shall never forget her!”

bell hooks
Associated Press

10 famous quotes by bell hooks

  • “If any female feels she need anything beyond herself to legitimate and validate her existence, she is already giving away her power to be self-defining, her agency.”
  • “Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.”
  • “I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.”
  • “No black woman writer in this culture can write “too much”. Indeed, no woman writer can write “too much”…No woman has ever written enough.”
  • “Being oppressed means the absence of choices.”
  • “The process begins with the individual woman’s acceptance that American women, without exception, are socialized to be racist, classist and sexist, in varying degrees, and that labeling ourselves feminists does not change the fact that we must consciously work to rid ourselves of the legacy of negative socialization.”
  • “Visionary feminism is a wise and loving politics. It is rooted in the love of male and female being, refusing to privilege one over the other. The soul of feminist politics is the commitment to ending patriarchal domination of women and men, girls and boys.”
  • “Honesty and openness is always the foundation of insightful dialogue.”
  • “The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is-it’s to imagine what is possible.”
  • “Love is a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and trust.”

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...