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How did bell hooks die? Acclaimed Black feminist author and activist dies at 69

'bell hooks wrote directly for and to Black women, and it is a beautiful thing that everyone can learn from her,' storyteller Bolu Babalola noted
UPDATED DEC 16, 2021
Gloria Jean Watkins aka bell hooks was a noted feminist author and activist (Twitter/CiCi Adams)
Gloria Jean Watkins aka bell hooks was a noted feminist author and activist (Twitter/CiCi Adams)

Author Gloria Jean Watkins, better recognized by her pen name bell hooks has tragically died at the age of 69 years. An acclaimed author of more than 40 published books, Watkins died on December 15, 2021, at her home in Kentucky. The news was confirmed by her family in a public statement, where they noted, "The family is honored that Gloria received numerous awards, honors and international fame for her work as a poet, author, professor, cultural critic and social activist. We are proud to just call her a sister, friend, confidant and influencer.” She was reportedly surrounded by her family and friends at the time of her death. 

Gloria aka bell hooks "was a native of Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Born September 25, 1952, 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 the pen name bell hooks, honoring our great-grandmother. Her written works include some 40 books that are now published in 15 different languages making her an international favorite loved by many," her family stated in the media release. This year, the literary community is also mourning the demise of Eric Carle, Gary Paulsen, Anne Rice and Jill Murphyamong others. 


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"The family of @bellhooks is sad to announce the passing of our sister, aunt, great aunt and great great aunt. The author, professor, critic and feminist made her transition early this am from her home, surrounded by family and friends," her family further tweeted. 


Growing up in a working-class African-American family, Watkins experienced racial discrimination at an early age, which later formed a predominant theme in her books. Her father worked as a janitor, and her mother was employed as a maid in White families. Meanwhile, Watkins studied in racially segregated public schools. In 1981, she published the book 'Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism', at just the age of 24. Her pen name 'bell hooks' bears special significance as she adopted the same from her 'snappy and bold' great-grandmother. She also chose to get her pen name published in lowercase letters to let the reader's focus be on the "substance of books, not who I am."

Watkins earned a PhD in Literature from the University of California, after attending Stanford University and the University of Wisconsin for her Bachelor's and Master's degrees respectively. Besides her writing career, Watkins worked as a professor since 1976 and has taught at several esteemed institutions. Her tragic death was mourned by hundreds of fans and readers, who shared their journey with bell hooks' books.

"I owe bell hooks more than I could ever give. She helped shape/articulate my politics more than any other scholar. She awakened worlds in me I did not know existed. Her writing & scholarship broke ground on so many levels & remains radical, relevant, necessary work. RIP bell," journalist CiCi Adams tweeted. 

Writer and editor Najma Sharif wrote, "bell hooks has taught me so much. I’m grateful for everything she’s left us with. may she rest in peace." Pop culture storyteller Bolu Babalola tweeted, "bell hooks wrote directly for and to Black women, and it is a beautiful thing that everyone can learn from her, but her soul-filled love for us was so apparent in her work."

Another reader noted, "It is because of bell hooks that i learned theory can be a place of deep transformation and healing. Your memory lives on forever. You taught us well. Rip Gloria Jean Watkins."