bell hooks died on December 15, 2021, at 69, in Kentucky. As a black Appalachian, bell hooks was inarguably one of the nation’s prominent feminist scholars and authors, and a friend to everyone she met. Last year, Time’s 100 Women of the Year called our sister-friend a “rare rock star of a public intellectual.” bell hooks was born Gloria Jean Watkins and later took the pen name “bell hooks” from her great grandmother Bell Blair Hooks.
bell hooks had legions of followers, especially women and the LGBTQ+ community, because her body of works profoundly changed the lives of so many of us. Laverne Cox is one. Laverne Cox and hooks a deep sister-friendship and admiration for each other. hooks called Cox a “goddess for justice.” A tribute to bell hooks, Cox wrote on Instagram the following:
“bell hooks has always been the truth. Now perhaps more than ever, it’s paramount that we lean into her work. On this day of her passing, let us celebrate the rich published legacy she leaves behind.”
bell hooks was a huge inspiration to me, too. bell hooks identified as “queer-pas-gay” and paved the way for “Intersectional Feminism,” inspiring generations of women and LGBTQ+ people. Because of bell hooks, my life’s work is grounded in an intersectional anti-oppression activism and praxis.
Few have changed and challenged feminism like bell hooks. In Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks challenged the feminist movement to incorporate women beyond the educated and the academy. As an African lesbian minister, theologian, and multimedia journalist, I take theology to the streets. bell hooks’ body of work has assisted me in shaping both a local and national affirming public dialogue on religion and social justice issues about women and LGBTQ+ people.
In Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, bell hooks states that she begins her analysis at the margin because it is a space of radical openness, and it gives you an oppositional gaze from which to see the world, unknown to the oppressor. It is at the margin where you can see injustice being done. It is not only a site where you can honestly critique the oppressive structures in society that keeps us wounded as a people, but it is also a site that can heal us as a people — both the oppressed and the oppressor.
I’ve learned from bell hooks in All About Love: New Visions that love is a verb, not a noun, requiring action, responsibility, and accountability to others. Love is about radical inclusion, and it must not be intellectualized but rather connected deeply with our need for personal healing; thus, challenging us to heal our “isms.” We must address deep-seated biases that impede authentic, respectful, and enriching relationships. And radical inclusion can only begin to work when those relegated to the fringes of society can begin to sample what those in society take for granted as their inalienable right.
bell hooks taught at several colleges and universities across the country. However, when hooks decided to return home to Kentucky, she opted to teach at Berea College. This liberal arts college offers free tuition and is the first interracial and coeducational college in the South. At Berea, hooks was the Distinguished Professor in Residence in Appalachian Studies and the founder of the bell hooks Institute that will continue her life’s work and mission. My favorite poem by hooks is “Appalachian Elegy.”
hear them cry the long dead the long gone speak to us from beyond the grave guide usthat we may learn all the ways to hold tender this land hard clay direct rock upon rock charred earth in time strong green growth will rise here trees back to life native flowers pushing the fragrance of hope the promise of resurrection
Like so many, I’ll miss bell hooks wondering with what new tome she’s gifting us. I loved bell hooks’ unquiet intellectual energy, her revolutionizing spirit, and her radical love for change. Heartbroken doesn’t aptly depict the enormity of bell hooks’ passing.
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