bell hooks

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bell hooks
Lozu mont oct8 bellhooooooooks.png
BornGloria Jean Watkins
(1952-09-25) September 25, 1952 (age 62)
Hopkinsville, Kentucky, USA
OccupationAuthor, social activist
Notable worksAin't I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism
All About Love: New Visions
We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity
Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center
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bell hooks
Lozu mont oct8 bellhooooooooks.png
BornGloria Jean Watkins
(1952-09-25) September 25, 1952 (age 62)
Hopkinsville, Kentucky, USA
OccupationAuthor, social activist
Notable worksAin't I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism
All About Love: New Visions
We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity
Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center

Gloria Jean Watkins (born September 25, 1952), better known by her pen name bell hooks,[1][2] is an American author, feminist, and social activist. She took her nom de plume from her maternal great-grandmother Bell Blair Hooks.[3]

Her writing has focused on the interconnectivity of race, capitalism, and gender and what she describes as their ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and class domination. She has published over thirty books and numerous scholarly and mainstream articles, appeared in several documentary films and participated in various public lectures. Primarily through a postmodern perspective, hooks has addressed race, class, and gender in education, art, history, sexuality, mass media and feminism.


Early life[edit]

Gloria Jean Watkins was born on September 25, 1952 in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. She grew up in a working-class family with five sisters and one brother. Her father, Veodis Watkins, was a custodian and her mother, Rosa Bell Watkins, was a homemaker. Throughout her childhood, she was an avid reader. Her early education took place in racially segregated public schools, and she wrote of great adversities when making the transition to an integrated school, where teachers and students were predominantly white. She graduated from Hopkinsville High School in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, earned her B.A. in English from Stanford University in 1973, and earned her M.A. in English from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1976. In 1983, after several years of teaching and writing, she completed her doctorate in the literature department from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a dissertation on author Toni Morrison.

Adult life[edit]

bell hooks in 2009

Her teaching career began in 1976 as an English professor and senior lecturer in Ethnic Studies at the University of Southern California. During her three years there, Golemics (Los Angeles) released her first published work, a chapbook of poems titled "And There We Wept" (1978), written under her pen name, "bell hooks". She adopted her grandmother's name as a pen name because her grandmother "was known for her snappy and bold tongue, which [she] greatly admired". She put the name in lowercase letters "to distinguish [herself from] her grandmother". She said that her unconventional lowercasing of her name signifies what is most important is her works: the "substance of books, not who I am".[4]

She taught at several post-secondary institutions in the early 1980s, including the University of California, Santa Cruz and San Francisco State University. South End Press (Boston) published her first major work, Ain't I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism in 1981, though it was written years earlier, while she was an undergraduate student.[5] In the decades since its publication, Ain't I a Woman? has gained widespread recognition as an influential contribution to postmodern feminist thought.[6]

Ain't I a Woman? examines several recurring themes in her later work: the historical impact of sexism and racism on black women, devaluation of black womanhood, media roles and portrayal, the education system, the idea of a white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy, the marginalization of black women, and the disregard for issues of race and class within feminism.

Since the publication of Ain't I a Woman?, she has become eminent as a leftist and postmodern political thinker and cultural critic. She targets and appeals to a broad audience by presenting her work in a variety of media using various writing and speaking styles. As well as having written books, she has published in numerous scholarly and mainstream magazines, lectures at widely accessible venues, and appears in various documentaries.

She is frequently cited by feminists[7][8][9] as having provided the best solution to the difficulty of defining something as diverse as "feminism", addressing the problem that if feminism can mean everything, it means nothing. She asserts an answer to the question "what is feminism?" that she says is "rooted in neither fear nor fantasy... 'Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression'".[10]

She has published more than 30 books, ranging in topics from black men, patriarchy, and masculinity to self-help, engaged pedagogy to personal memoirs, and sexuality (in regards to feminism and politics of aesthetic/visual culture). A prevalent theme in her most recent writing is the community and communion, the ability of loving communities to overcome race, class, and gender inequalities. In three conventional books and four children's books, she suggests that communication and literacy (the ability to read, write, and think critically) are crucial to developing healthy communities and relationships that are not marred by race, class, or gender inequalities.

She has held positions as Professor of African-American Studies and English at Yale University, Associate Professor of Women's Studies and American Literature at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, and as Distinguished Lecturer of English Literature at the City College of New York.

In 2002, hooks gave a commencement speech at Southwestern University. Eschewing the congratulatory mode of traditional commencement speeches, she spoke against what she saw as government-sanctioned violence and oppression, and admonished students who she believed went along with such practices. This was followed by a controversy described in the Austin Chronicle after an "irate Arizonian"[11] had criticized the speech in a letter to the editor.[12] The newspaper reported that many in the audience booed the speech, though "several graduates passed over the provost to shake her hand or give her a hug".[11]

In 2004 she joined Berea College in Berea, Kentucky as Distinguished Professor in Residence,[13] where she participated in a weekly feminist discussion group, "Monday Night Feminism", a luncheon lecture series, "Peanut Butter and Gender" and a seminar, "Building Beloved Community: The Practice of Impartial Love".

Her 2008 book, belonging: a culture of place, includes a very candid interview with author Wendell Berry as well as a discussion of her move back to Kentucky.

hooks has undertaken three scholar-in-residences at The New School. Mostly recently she did one for a week in October 2014. She engaged in public dialogues with Gloria Steinem,[14] Laverne Cox,[15] and Cornel West.


Those who have influenced hooks include African-American abolitionist and feminist Sojourner Truth (whose speech Ain't I a Woman? inspired her first major work), Brazilian educator Paulo Freire (whose perspectives on education she embraces in her theory of engaged pedagogy), Peruvian theologian and Dominican priest Gustavo Gutierrez, psychologist Erich Fromm, playwright Lorraine Hansberry, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, African-American writer James Baldwin, Guyanese historian Walter Rodney, African-American black nationalist leader Malcolm X, and African-American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr (who addresses how the strength of love unites communities).[16][17]

Teaching to Transgress[edit]

bell hooks, Samuel R. Delany, M Lamar and Marci Blackman having a conversation about transgressive sexual practice at The New School

In her book Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, hooks investigated the classroom as a source of constraint but also a potential source of liberation. She argued that teachers' use of control and power over students dulls the students' enthusiasm and teaches obedience to authority, "confin[ing] each pupil to a rote, assembly-line approach to learning."[18] She advocated that universities encourage students and teachers to transgress, and sought ways to use collaboration to make learning more relaxing and exciting. She described teaching as "a catalyst that calls everyone to become more and more engaged".[19]

Feminist Theory[edit]

Noting a lack of diverse voices in popular feminist theory, bell hooks published this work in 1984. In Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, she explains that those voices have been marginalized. "To be in the margin is to be part of the whole but outside the main body."[20] hooks argued in her work that if feminism seeks to make women equal to men, then it is impossible due to the fact Western society does not view all men equal. She claimed, “Women in lower class and poor groups, particularly those who are non-white, would not have defined women’s liberation as women gaining social equality with men since they are continually reminded in their everyday lives that all women do not share a common social status.”[21] She used the work as a platform to offer a new, more inclusive feminist theory. Her theory encouraged the long-standing idea of sisterhood but advocated for women to acknowledge their differences while still accepting each other. bell hooks challenged feminists to consider gender's relation to race, class, and sex, a concept coined as intersectionality. hooks covers the importance of male involvement in the equality movement, that in order to make change men must do their part. hooks also calls for a restructuring of the cultural framework of power, one that does not find oppression of others necessary.[22]

Part of this restructuring involves allowing men into the feminist movement, so that there is not a separationist ideology, so much as an incorporating camaraderie. Additionally, she shows great appreciation for the movement away from feminist thought as led by bourgeois white women, and towards a multidimensional gathering of both genders to fight for the raising up of women. This shifts the original focus of feminism away from victimization, and towards harboring understanding, appreciation, and tolerance for all genders and sexes so that all are in control of their own destinies, uncontrolled by patriarchal, capitalist tyrants.[23]

Another part of restructuring the movement comes from education; bell hooks points out that there is an anti-intellectual stigma among the masses. Poor people don't want to hear from intellectuals because they are different and have different ideas. As bell hooks points out though, this stigma against intellectuals leads to poor people who have risen up to become graduates of post secondary education, to be shunned because they are no longer like the rest of the masses. In order for us to achieve equality, people must be able to learn from those who have been able to smash these stereotypes. This separation leads to further inequality and in order for the feminist movement to succeed, they must be able to bridge the education gap and relate to those in the lower end of the economic sphere. If they are able to do this, then there will be more success and less inequality.


bell hooks has attracted criticism, often from conservative writers. Writer David Horowitz has specifically objected to a passage in the first chapter of Killing Rage,[24] in which hooks states that she is "sitting beside an anonymous white male that [she] long[s] to murder" because he was complicit in a boarding pass misunderstanding that resulted in the harassment of her black, female friend.[25] Of these kind of "irrational, violent impulses," hooks states, "My irrational impulse to want to kill people who bore me or whose ideas are not very complex clearly has to do with an exaggerated response to situations where I feel powerless."[26]

Although much of the criticism aimed at hooks is politically motivated, liberals and conservatives alike have critiqued her informal style of writing. After the release of her first book, Ain't I a Woman: Black Women in Feminism, hooks' writing was criticized as "ahistorical [and] unscholarly"; many complained about the absence of footnotes.[27] hooks does not provide a bibliography for any of her work, making it difficult to find the editors and publication information for the pieces listed under the "notes" section of her work.[28] In "Theory as Liberatory Practice", hooks explains that her lack of conventional academic format was "motivated by the desire to be inclusive, to reach as many readers as possible in as many different locations as possible".[29]

In "Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work; By Bell Hooks; Mother to Mother", Nicole Abraham criticizes hooks' unconventional format rationalization. Abraham suggests that, if her rationalization for not providing footnotes and bibliographic information in her writing is that it will help her reach a broader (presumably a less academic) audience, hooks either assumes the average person has "no real interest or knowledge about who really wrote what ideas and where we can look for more thoughts on similar subjects" or "she mean[s] that we are lazy readers who have not the sophistication to grapple with the complications of an endnote".[30]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Select bibliography[edit]

Film appearances[edit]


  1. ^ hooks, bell, Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black (South End Press, 1989) ISBN 0-89608-352-7
  2. ^ Dinitia Smith (September 28, 2006). "Tough arbiter on the web has guidance for writers". The New York Times. p. E3. "But the Chicago Manual says it is not all right to capitalize the name of the writer Bell Hooks because she insists that it be lower case." 
  3. ^ hooks, bell. "Inspired Eccentricity: Sarah and Gus Oldham." Family: American Writers Remember Their Own. Eds. Sharon Sloan Fiffer and Steve Fiffer. New York: Vintage Books, 1996. 152.
  4. ^ Heather Williams. "bell hooks Speaks Up". The Sandspur (2/10/06). Retrieved September 10, 2006. 
  5. ^ Teaching to Transgress, 52.
  6. ^ Google Scholar shows 894 citations of Ain't I a Woman (as of August 30, 2006)
  7. ^ "Book Review: Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks". Retrieved 2013-12-14. 
  8. ^ "10 Years of "Feminism is for Everybody"". Ms. Magazine Blog (2010 September 7). Retrieved 2013-12-14. 
  9. ^ "Feminism is for Everybody: Further Discussion". Retrieved 2013-12-14. 
  10. ^ bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics Pluto Press, 2000
  11. ^ a b Lauri Apple. "bell hooks Digs In". The Austin Chronicle (May 24, 2002). Retrieved December 11, 2013. 
  12. ^ "Postmarks - Southwestern Graduation Debacle". The Austin Chronicle (May 24, 2002). Retrieved December 11, 2013. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ Vagianos, Alanna (October 7, 2014). "Gloria Steinem On The Great Part Of Feminism: 'We Have Each Other's Backs'". Retrieved October 11, 2014. 
  15. ^ Scherker, Amanda (October 10, 2014). "Laverne Cox And bell hooks Talk How To Survive The Patriarchy". Retrieved October 11, 2014. 
  16. ^ Notes on IAPL 2001 Keynote Speaker, bell hooks
  17. ^ Building a Community of Love, bell hooks & Thich Nhat Hanh
  18. ^ (hooks, Teaching to Transgress 12)
  19. ^ (hooks, 11)
  20. ^ (hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, xvi)
  21. ^ (hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center)
  22. ^ (hooks,92)
  23. ^ (hooks,74)
  24. ^ David Horowitz (February 13, 2006). "Top 10 Most Dangerous Academics in America". Human Events. Retrieved September 20, 2011. 
  25. ^ hooks, bell (1995). Killing Rage. New York: Henry Holt & Co. pp. 8–9. ISBN 0-8050-3782-9. OCLC 32089130. 
  26. ^ Lawrence Chua (1994). "bell hooks by Lawrence Chua". BOMB Magazine. Retrieved September 20, 2011. 
  27. ^ Bell-Scott, Patricia (1985). "The Centrality of Marginality". The Women's Review of Books 2 (5): 3. doi:10.2307/4019632. 
  28. ^ Pettis, Joyce (1986). "A Review of Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center". Journal of Women in Culture and Society 11 (4): 788–789. doi:10.1086/494279. 
  29. ^ Haley, Shelly (1995). "Practicing Freedom". The Women's Review of Books 7 (6): 10–11. 
  30. ^ Abraham, Nicole (1999). "Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work; by Bell Hooks; Mother to Mother; by Sindiwe Magona". Southern African Feminist Review 3 (2): 101. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Florence, Namulundah (1998). Bell Hooks's Engaged Pedagogy. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey. ISBN 0-89789-564-9. OCLC 38239473. 
  • Leitch et al., eds. "Bell Hooks." The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001. pp. 2475–2484. ISBN 0-393-97429-4
  • South End Press Collective, ed. (1998). "Critical Consciousness for Political Resistance". Talking About a Revolution. Cambridge: South End Press. pp. 39–52. ISBN 0-89608-587-2. OCLC 38566253. 
  • Stanley, Sandra Kumamoto, ed. (1998). Other Sisterhoods: Literary Theory and U.S. Women of Color. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-02361-7. OCLC 36446785. 
  • Wallace, Michele (1998). Black Popular Culture. New York: The New Press. ISBN 1-56584-459-9. OCLC 40548914. 
  • Whitson, Kathy J. (2004). Encyclopedia of Feminist Literature. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-32731-9. OCLC 54529420. 

External links[edit]