This week’s open threads have highlighted the works of several Black feminists/womanists. Today, I am going to focus on one of the most well-known Black feminists: bell hooks.
Gloria Jean Watkins (born September 25, 1952), better known by her pen name bell hooks, is an American author, feminist, and social activist. She took her nom de plume from her maternal great-grandmother Bell Blair Hooks. She was born 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 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.
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 theUniversity 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 Cruzwith a dissertation on author Toni Morrison. She also taught at Yale.
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 in her works: the “substance of books, not who I am”.
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