Gloria Jean Watkins, a Hopkinsville native and internationally renowned feminist author who wrote under the pen name bell hooks, died on Dec. 15 at her home in Berea, Kentucky, following an extended illness. She was 69.
Born on Sept. 25, 1952, in Hopkinsville to Veodis and Rosa Bell Watkins, she was the fourth of seven siblings.
In 1978, she published her first book of poems, “And There We Wept,” under her pen name, which she adopted from her great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks. She chose to lowercase her pen name to emphasize the importance of the substance of her writing as opposed to its author.
She went on to write more than 30 books that are published in 15 different languages. Some of her other titles include “Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism,” “Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood,” “Belonging: A Culture of Place” and “All About Love,” which was recently named to the New York Times Best Seller list more than 20 years after it was first published.
A graduate of Hopkinsville High School, she received her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University, her master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin and her Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
She was a Distinguished Professor in Residence in Appalachian Studies at Berea College, which earlier this year opened the bell hooks Center, which celebrates her life and legacy and “serves as an inclusive space where historically underrepresented students can come to be as they are, outside of the social scripts that circumscribe their living.”
“The bell hooks Institute at Berea College will continue to be a valuable and informative beacon to her life’s work, continuing to remind humans that life is all about love,” the college said in a statement Wednesday. “In her words, ‘To love well is the task in all meaningful relationships, not just romantic bonds.'”
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hooks was inducted in 2018 to the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame. Upon her selection, Neil Chethik, executive director of the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, said the following:
“bell hooks is one of the most influential cultural critics of our time. She has built a worldwide readership over 40 years with unique insights on such topics as love, race and power.”
Her family announced the news in a statement Wednesday.
“The family is honored that Gloria received numerous awards, honors and international fame for her works as a poet, author, feminist, professor, cultural critic and social activist,” they said. “We are proud to just call her sister, friend, confidant and influencer.”
Contributions and memorials can be made to the Christian County Literacy Council, which promotes reading for children, or the Museums of Historic Hopkinsville-Christian County, where a biographical exhibit is on display.
A celebration of life will be announced at a later date.