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bell hooks, writer and poet of Black women’s experiences, dead at 69

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Black feminist writer and poet bell hooks died Wednesday at her home in Berea, Kentucky, at the age of 69, according to a statement from her family.

Watkins had been fighting an illness and died with family and friends at her side, the family said in their statement, also noting, “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. We are proud to just call her sister, friend, confidant, and influencer.”

Born Gloria Jean Watkins on September 25, 1952 in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, Watkins published under the pseudonym “bell hooks” — a name inspired by her great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks, and spelled in all lowercase letters — to keep focus on her work and ideas rather than on her identity, she said in an interview with The Sandspur in 2013.

Watkins studied English at Stanford University and earned a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin and a Ph.D. from the University of California at Santa Cruz after attending segregated schools before college.

Her first book, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, focuses on the impact of sexism on Black women. She wrote more than 40 books with the main emphasis on feminist theory and Black womanhood. Those books have been published in over 15 different languages.

In 2014, Watkins founded the bell hooks Institute at Berea College after being a teacher there since 2004. The institute serves as a collection of contemporary African American art and storage of her books and poems.

Watkins’ family announced that a ceremony honoring her life will be held at a later date.

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