Get to know bell hooks
Get to Know bell hooks
Our center’s namesake, bell hooks, transitioned early on Wednesday, December 15, 2021, at her Berea, KY home. bell, born Gloria Jean Watkins in Hopkinsville, grew up with love for books and writing. A globally renowned cultural critic, feminist, and intellectual dissident, her work imagined radical ways of being in the world. It encouraged love of self and community while calling us into liberatory practices that daringly reshape feminism as an embodied challenge to intersecting structures of oppression.
As a distinguished professor in residence at Berea College, bell often spent time with and mentored students. She founded the bell hooks Institute to foster additional feminist programming in Berea and worked closely with Dr. M. Shadee Malaklou to establish the bell hooks center as a testament to her legacy.
We mourn in beloved community and further commit to her work by daring to create lives of political and spiritual liberation through healing, radical joy, and redemptive love, which bell believed was our “true destiny.”
In redemptive love,
Your friendly feminists at the bell hooks center
bell and the world
bell hooks’ impact stretches beyond her Kentucky roots. The little girl whose grandmother nicknamed 'Glory' is now heralded as one of the preeminent feminist voices of our time. In 1995, Utne Reader recognized her among its “100 Visionaries Who Can Change Your Life.” TIME honored her in 2020 with its “100 Women of the Year,” dubbing hooks a “rare rock star of a public intellectual.”
With more than 30 books to her name and articles in magazines like Ms., Essence and Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, hooks commands attention. Her writing blends social commentary and autobiography with feminist critique, and no matter the topic, she delivers scholarly rigor in everyday prose.
Before relocating to Berea, hooks taught at institutions such as Stanford, Yale and The City College of New York. She has held residencies in the United States and overseas, and in 2014, St. Norbert College hosted “A Year of bell hooks” in her honor.
Following the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020 and nationwide racial justice protests, hooks’ All About Love: New Visions became sought-after reading. Readers continue to turn to hooks for a clear perspective on how we can move towards justice and love.
bell and Appalachia
bell hooks (née Gloria Jean Watkins) was born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky in 1952—shortly before Brown v. Board of Education reached the U.S. Supreme Court. hooks grew up between the hills and a segregated town. Her early schooling presented Kentucky as race-neutral, neither pro- nor anti-slavery. But school children routinely visited Jefferson Davis’s birthsite, a Confederate monument miles from her hometown.
This history led hooks to call Kentucky a “racial apartheid.” Still, the self-professed country girl credits her commitment to self-determination and dissident speech to “the cultural ethos of the Kentucky backwoods, of the hillbilly country folk who were my ancestors and kin.”
hooks writes about Kentucky in belonging: a culture of place and challenges notions of its inherent whiteness in Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place. As the keynote for Berea’s Appalachian Writers Symposium in 2015, hooks asserted, “I always take the motto, like the queer motto, ‘We’re here.’ I feel that about myself as a Black person in the hills of Kentucky. I am here, and there’s nothing but love within me for the world around me.”
In 2018, the Carnegie Center inducted hooks into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame, recognizing her lifelong contributions to literature and justice.
bell hooks signs books following her induction into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame in 2018. Photo by Tom Eblen/Lexington Herald-Leader.
bell and Berea
In 1999, the Women’s Studies program sponsored bell hooks’ “Love and Spirituality” convocation address. Drawn to Berea’s anti-racist beginnings and wishing to return to her Kentucky homeplace, hooks joined the faculty in 2004. “I felt very much that I wanted to give back to the world I came from,” she says. “I grew up in the hills of Kentucky, and I wanted these students to see you can be a cosmopolitan person of the world but still be connected positively to your home roots.”
She also chose Berea as the site for the bell hooks Institute, which preserves hooks’ legacy through art and artifacts from her life. The Institute’s inaugural event, held September 7, 2015, featured trans actress activist Laverne Cox, credited with adding “cis” and “heteronormative” to hooks’ call to dismantle “imperialist-white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy.” Since then, the Institute has hosted prominent visitors, including Cornel West, Gloria Steinem and Imani Perry. These intimate talks, open to campus and community members, reflect hooks’ belief that truth telling can transform consciousness and communities.
In 2015, hooks donated her papers to the College. This monumental gift of letters, manuscripts and memorabilia gives students and researchers insight into one of America’s sharpest feminist minds.