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Celebrating Kentucky: bell hooks

By Jenn Shockley |

Influential author, speaker and teacher promotes equality and understanding through her work.

Born in 1952 in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, as Gloria Jean Watkins, this author, social activist and renowned feminist is better known by her pen name, bell hooks. Bell Blair Hooks, Gloria's maternal great grandmother, inspired the name. She used the name to author books about the intersection of capitalism, gender and race, as well as class domination and oppression.

How did she come to focus on these topics? hooks loved to read and absorb information, but she was primarily educated in public schools that were racially segregated. Over the years, she has spoke, of the challenges and adversities she experienced when transferring to a racially integrated school. She found herself in a predominantly white educational environment, including both teachers and students at Hopkinsville High School.
Despite the racial challenges and changes, she went on to attend Stanford University, earning a BA in English and a master's degree in English from the University of Wisconsin. hooks embraced teaching and writing for several years, then got a doctorate in literature at the Santa Cruz University of California in 1983.

She is the founder of the bell hooks Institute at Berea College, which she created in 2014. This was after she published well over 30 books, scholarly articles, gave many public lectures and appeared in numerous documentary films.


Many of her publications covered topics like patriarchy, masculinity, black men, personal memoirs, sexuality, and even self help. Community and communion are more recent topics, with hooks encouraging people to free themselves from gender inequalities. This renowned author and feminist tries to teach people to love one another, regardless of financial status, race, gender or religion.


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