Michaela Jae Rodriguez
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Queer Black Feminist Writer bell hooks Dies at 69

bell hooks

Esteemed queer Black feminist author bell hooks has died at age 69.

She died Wednesday at her home in Berea, Ky., the Lexington Herald Leader reports. She had been ill, and friends and family were with her.

Her dozens of books included essays, poetry, and works for children, and she dealt with issues of intersectionality long before many others. These issues were at the core of her 1981 book Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, which examined the impact of sexism on Black women throughout history as well as racism within the feminist movement.

All About Love: New Visions, first published in 2000, deals with how love can heal a polarized society and asserts that love cannot be separated from justice. Amid the protests against police brutality and systemic racism last year, it “became sought-after reading,” according to the bell hooks center at Berea College.

She was one of Time’s 100 Women of the Year in 2020, and the magazine called her a “rare rock star of a public intellectual.” Utne Reader in 1995 listed her among its 100 Visionaries Who Can Change Your Life.

She once described her identity as “queer-pas-gay.” She was critical, however, of those who viewed racism and homophobia as the same. “White people, gay and straight, could show greater understanding of the impact of racial oppression on people of color by not attempting to make these oppressions synonymous, but rather by showing the ways they are linked and yet differ,” she wrote in 1999’s Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black.

She was born in 1952 in Hopkinsville, Ky., as Gloria Jean Watkins. Her pen name was her great-grandmother’s name, which she styled in all lowercase letters as a way to place importance on “substance of books, not who I am,” she said.

Growing up in Kentucky, she attended segregated schools that did not teach about the impact of racism. She went on to study at Stanford University, then earned a master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin and a doctorate at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She taught at Stanford, Yale University, and the City College of New York, then joined Berea’s faculty in 2004. Berea was founded in the 1850s by abolitionists who were dedicated to equal education for people of all races and genders.

The bell hooks center at Berea hosts speakers on feminism and social justice, and seeks “to chart a new chapter in Berea College’s great, historical commitments — one that cultivates radical coalition between women, LGBTQPIA+ students, and students of color,” according to its website. The college also houses hooks’s papers and artifacts.

“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,” said a statement from the school.

“I want my work to be about healing,” hooks once said. “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.”

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