The influential feminist author, critic, and public intellectual bell hooks died on Wednesday at age 69 in Berea, Kentucky.
hooks was the author of more than 40 books, including volumes of poetry, essay collections, and children's stories. Born Gloria Jean Watkins, she chose the pen name bell hooks after her great-grandmother and declined to capitalize the name to encourage readers to focus on the "substance of books, not who I am."
Her first major book, Ain't I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism was published in 1981 and made the case that the feminist movement must recognize the experiences of Black and working-class women, refrain from marginalizing these groups, and become more inclusive.
"A devaluation of Black womanhood occurred as a result of the sexual exploitation of Black women during slavery that has not altered in the course of hundreds of years," hooks wrote in the book. In 1992, Ain't I a Woman? was named one of the most influential women's books of the previous two decades by Publishers Weekly.
hooks taught at Yale University, Oberlin College, University of California at Santa Cruz, and most recently at Berea Collegea tuition-free school which caters to students with limited financial resourceswhere she was a distinguished professor in residence of Appalachian Studies.
In 2010 the college established the bell hook Institute, which houses her art collection and her works. The institute hosts events and speakers with a focus on what hooks called "imperialist-white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy" power structures and how to disrupt and understand those structures.
Speakers at the institute have included Cornel West and Gloria Steinem.
West was among the public figures who paid tribute to hooks on Wednesday, calling her "an intellectual giant, spiritual genius, and freest of persons" on social media.
Writer Roxane Gay called the loss of hooks "incalculable."
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) shared a quote from hooks: "One of the most vital ways we sustain ourselves is by building communities of resistance, places [where] we know we are not alone."
"Thank you for showing us that we are never alone," Bush tweeted.